NYU has once again made national headlines — this time for the university’s delay in reporting a student setting another student on fire while she was sleeping.
The incident took place in Lafayette residence hall on the night of Aug. 23 while both students were allegedly intoxicated. It was not reported to the police until Oct. 27, two months after the incident occurred, and one month later NYU expelled the student perpetrator, Jaime Castano, following an internal investigation.
What made this case exceptional was the odd nature of the crime. Castano allegedly sang as he lit the student on fire and posted a video of it to Snapchat. NYU now admits through spokesperson John Beckman, “This case clearly should have been reported to the police” despite the victim’s reluctance, which significantly delayed police involvement. NYU allowed proper arraignment of Castano to be pushed back for months, even though NYU’s own investigation found him guilty.
This delay is troublesome because the perpetrator could have acted again in the time between NYU’s knowledge of the original offense and the police report. While going to the police is a large step given the sensitive nature of some crimes, it is more often than not a necessary one. As NYU updates its policies in the wake of the incident, it should look into developing a better policy on reporting crimes to the police.
While most crimes reported at NYU involve theft or drug or alcohol violations and don’t often require further investigation, more serious violent crimes and sexual harassment should be reported immediately. NYU’s Sexual Misconduct Policy does stipulate that if “there is an imminent threat of harm to self or others,” then NYU can go to the police without the victim’s express permission. The potential for criminals to act again and harm others is high; research has shown that rapists on campus are often repeat offenders.
While respect for a victim’s wishes is important, the safety of others must remain a top priority in all types of assault cases. This means that when a victim comes forward about assault to NYU, the lead must be used to stamp out the potential for future incidents.
Beckman has said NYU is working “so that cases like this are reported to the police immediately in the future.” However controversial, this is a major step in the right direction. While it could deter victims of assault from coming forward, it will ultimately make NYU’s campus a safer place.
A version of this article appeared in the Thursday, Jan. 29 print edition. Email Matthew Tessler at [email protected].