New Evidence that Public Campus Rape Stats Are Too Low

New Evidence that Public Campus Rape Stats Are Too Low

Sexual assault is a famously under-reported crime. The reasons are many and complex, but often revolve around victim shame, victim blaming, dread over what’s involved in the process of seeking justice, and—especially in a college environment—fear of reprisal. But putting all that aside, there’s new evidence that where campus rape is concerned, the public statistics aren’t just too low because the crime often isn’t reported—they don’t even reflect all the reported incidents.

Two Conflicting Stories 

The Clery Act is an important piece of legislation requiring that all US colleges and universities participating in any federal financial aid programs keep and disclose records of numerous types of crimes committed on or next to their campuses. This includes a broad range of sexual offenses. 

Back in September 2015, the Association of American Universities (AAU) released the results of a large survey conducted to ascertain how many students filed rape reports with the college or university they attend. 

Now Mother Jones has compared the data from both sets of public records. And there are some striking discrepancies. It’s clear that official reports filed to comply with The Clery Act (and avoid incurring penalty fees) are understating the truth. 

A Few Examples 

Here’s a sampling of the comparisons Mother Jones cites in its analysis. It used The Clery Act data for the 2014 calendar year and AAU survey responses regarding the 2014-2015 school year. 

It also only includes AAU responses from females who said they reported rapes by physical force, threats, or while too intoxicated or otherwise incapacitated to consent. So, the numbers are not inclusive of additional rape reports (such as those from male and transgender students) outside these somewhat narrow parameters. 

  • Ohio State University disclosed 22 rape reports, while 271 students said they filed one
  • Michigan State University disclosed 15, while 256 students said they filed one
  • University of Michigan disclosed 21, while 256 students said they filed one
  • University of Arizona disclosed 36, while 224 students said they filed one
  • University of Florida disclosed 7, while 217 students said they filed one
  • University of Southern California disclosed 18, while 183 students said they filed one
  • University of Minnesota, Twin Cities disclosed 24, while 173 students said they filed one
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill disclosed 26, while 165 students said they filed one
  • Texas A&M disclosed 9, while 162 students said they filed one
  • University of Texas at Austin disclosed 48, while 157 students said they filed one

Only two of 25 schools had fewer students claiming a rape report than rapes disclosed under The Clery Act. Incidentally, these are also the two with the smallest discrepancies on the list.

  • Dartmouth College disclosed 48 rape reports, while 28 students said they filed one
  • Brown University disclosed 44, while 21 students said they filed one 

What’s Going On? 

Are these institutions outright lying? Let’s just say they’re benefiting from loopholes and technicalities. 

For example, The Clery Act only requires disclosure of crimes committed on campus, on campus-adjacent property, and on school-affiliated property. This excludes a lot of off-campus housing, even if it’s a block or two away and predominantly used by students. So, the many sexual assaults that occur in student-occupied off-campus apartments and houses don’t get reported under the legislation. 

Also, reports made to certain school employees, such as counselors and campus organization religious leaders, don’t have to be disclosed. In such instances, students may even believe they’ve filed an official report by talking to someone with a position at the school, but that usually isn’t the case. Additionally, schools may find reasons to categorize certain offenses in such a way that they don’t have to be included under The Clery Act (or that lets them be classified as something other than a sex offense), or even subsequent legislation that expanded its inclusions, such as 2013’s Campus SaVE Act. 

The Bottom Line 

This is yet more proof that while some people claim campus rape statistics are exaggerated, they are in fact lower than the reality. There is definitely a need for further legislation and oversight that makes official public numbers more accurate and representative of the prevalence of sexual violence on college and university campuses.


Sheri Heitker Dixon is the founder of Keep Her Safe, a non-profit organization committed to making college campuses safe from sexual assault.

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