A new analysis of campus crime data has revealed that 91 percent of U.S. colleges had no reported cases of rape in 2014, according to the American Association of University Women.
That should be good news, but we know sexual assault is far more common than that. A 2014 survey of more than 150,000 students across the country found that nearly 1 in 4 college women had experienced sexual violence on campus. And under the Clery Act, a school is required to report every sex crime that happens on its grounds to the Department of Education.
So, why do the latest DOE numbers appear to clash with national statistics?
Activists were quick to point out that the low numbers don’t mean sexual assaults aren’t happening; it’s more likely that victims didn’t report them. They’re not wrong, but it’s important to note another explanation for all those zeroes.
AAUW’s alarming 9-in-10 figure in part stems from schools missing the Department of Education’s crime-data reporting deadline, which was Oct. 1. A spokesperson for AAUW confirmed that some colleges’ reports are probably just late, and they were considered zeros in the organization’s analysis.
It’s also possible that the schools did file on time, but the data hasn’t yet been logged in the education department’s searchable database. (A DOE spokesperson did not respond to a request for an explanation.)
Still, AAUW’s findings do reflect that sexual assault remains vastly underreported. We know from a growing body of research that some survivors feel too ashamed to come forward. Some don’t want to relive the trauma through police interviews and court dates.
Others encounter parents, friends, officers and school officials who blame or don’t believe them. And on top of that, victims sometimes fear retaliation from their attackers.
So, a school that reports no or few sexual assaults isn’t necessarily a safe haven for students. In fact, a higher number of reported assaults can mean the assault investigation system is operating effectively.
In recent years, student activists nationwide have pressured schools in highly public campaigns to fix the way they handle rape cases.
Take Emma Sulkowicz, a Columbia University student who appeared on the cover of New York magazine after pledging to carry her dorm mattress across campus until the student she accused of raping her on it was expelled.
She brought the mattress to her graduation in May.
The Department of Education, meanwhile, investigated at least 106 universities last year for their handling of sexual violence reports and the White House launched a campaign to curb campus rape.