Do the stats lie?

Campus rape statistics are low across the country, but are they accurate?

STATISTICALLY SPEAKING<br>University detective sergeant Robin Hearn, pictured, said Chico State does quite a bit to keep students informed and safe but, like other campuses across the country, the university still deals with victims not reporting rapes and sexual assaults.

University detective sergeant Robin Hearn, pictured, said Chico State does quite a bit to keep students informed and safe but, like other campuses across the country, the university still deals with victims not reporting rapes and sexual assaults.

Photo By Tom Angel

There were two reports of forcible sex offenses on the Chico State campus in 2003 according to university police statistics—only two.

That’s an incredibly low number, but probably not a very accurate one.

And it’s an issue that both city law enforcement agencies and universities face across the nation—rapes and sexual assaults are still going unreported. But some say it goes deeper—that universities have taken measures to ensure that crime statistics don’t hit figures that could scare off potential students and parents.

Robin Hearn, detective sergeant for the University Police Department at Chico State, says Chico is no different than anywhere else in the country in that victims of rape and sexual assault are reluctant to report crimes.

“In law enforcement we all know that statistics are not very accurate,” Hearn says.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, one in four female university students may be victim of a sexual assault during their college careers—however, fewer than 5 percent of these assaults will be reported to police.

On the Chico State campus there were two reports of forcible sex offenses (which include forcible rape and forcible fondling) in 2002 and five in the previous year.

Hearn says crime statistics are compiled from calls for service on university property only, including the campus and residence halls. Any crimes occurring in the surrounding areas are handled by city police and won’t be included in on-campus statistics.

The university does go to great lengths to keep students informed and offers numerous resources and options to victims, says Hearn.

The A.S. Women’s Center hosts its annual Take Back the Night event, which includes guest speakers and a march through the streets. And Men Against Rape and Sexism (M.A.R.S.) was formed earlier this year to offer a men’s perspective on violence against women on campus.

The university also provides pamphlets with emergency phone numbers, including counseling options for victims on and off campus. Hearn says the biggest issue university police tries to get across to young women is the “take-a-buddy” approach—if you arrive at a party with a friend, you leave with that friend.

University police also have a crime log available to the public and patrols on campus 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“We’re trying to get out there pretty thick on campus,” Hearn says.

It wasn’t until 1990 that universities were even required to offer programs to inform students and employees about the prevention of crimes or provide campus crime statistics.

It was then that the Campus Security Act (now known as The Jeanne Clery Act) was passed by Congress, requiring that all universities participating in federal student financial aid—which covers most institutions of higher education—disclose crime statistics on campus property, and some non-campus properties including Greek housing and remote classrooms. Universities failing to comply could face fines of up to $27,500 from the Department of Education.

The law was named after 19-year-old Jeanne Clery, who was raped and murdered in her dorm room at Lehigh University in 1986. Her parents, Howard and Connie Clery, along with other campus crime victims, pushed Congress to pass the law after they discovered that students hadn’t been told about 38 violent crimes on the Lehigh campus in the three years before their daughter’s murder.

The Clerys also co-founded the nonprofit organization Security On Campus Inc. in 1987, in order to educate students and parents about crime on college campuses.

Catherine Bath, executive director of Security On Campus, says that prior to 1990 only 4 percent of universities were actually reporting campus crime. And although federal law forces universities to disclose crime statistics, reports of rape and sexual assault still aren’t as accurate as they could be.

The issue of victims who don’t report crimes is one police agencies and universities around the country continue to face each year.

In some cases, Bath explained, victims don’t even realize that what happened to them was rape until weeks later or will sometimes blame themselves—especially if alcohol was involved—and won’t report a crime when they should.

Sexual assaults are most often carried out by someone the victim knew, another contributing factor in the low number of reports.

Nearly 90 percent of all rapes and attempted rapes occurring on college campuses qualify as “acquaintance rape,” where the victim knew the offender.

And although alcohol consumption isn’t to blame for any sexual assault case, a recent Harvard University study shows that heavy alcohol use coupled with inexperience with drinking also puts young women in serious jeopardy for sexual assault.

The study shows that approximately 10 percent of female students who are frequent binge drinkers report being raped compared to only 3 percent of non-bingeing female students.

But Bath says this “culture of silence,” is sometimes fostered by administrators, who don’t want to rock the boat with potential students.

“Universities are business-minded and geared toward keeping an image,” she says. “It’s a numbers game.”

Bath says some schools will put the blame on victims who may have been under the influence of alcohol. She also says the judicial process is so ineffective at some campuses—imposing little or no punishment on offenders—that victims become discouraged from reporting a rape or sexual assault.

Miami University in Ohio violated the same law twice by not disclosing the results of disciplinary proceedings—including information about what actions were taken toward the perpetrator.

Another “tactic” universities may use is refusing to collect crime statistics from all campus security authorities, especially resident advisers, who Bath says are often discounted by administrators.

The result, Bath says, is low figures.

“Parents should be more concerned with a school that has a bunch of zeros.”

That’s not the case at Chico State, says UPD’s Hearn, who says the university works with all campus security authorities—anyone who is responsible for student and campus activities—including resident advisers.

“If [resident advisers] have something of that magnitude, they tell us,” Hearn says.

The CSU system received the Jeanne Clery Campus Safety Award in 2002 for implementing new alcohol policies and for producing a video that explains how the Clery Act works. However, the CSU annual report of crime statistics shows that reports of rape went up 33 percent in 2004.

Security On Campus continues to receive hundreds of phone calls and e-mails from universities who have questions about The Clery Act and from victims who seek support or believe their school may not be in compliance.

Bath says the organization was created not just to keep statistics, but to make sure information is available to parents and students.

“We don’t want parents sending their children off to school thinking it’s a safe haven behind the ivory towers.”

Contact info
Butte County Behavioral Health: (530) 891-2810

Butte County Sheriff’s Department: (530) 538-7911

Catalyst Women’s Advocates: (530) 343-7711

Chico Police Department: (530) 895-4911

Faculty and Staff Assistance: (530) 898-4645

Human Resources: (530) 898-5029

Office of Student Judicial Affairs: (530) 898-6897

Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs: (530) 898-6131

Rape Crisis Intervention 24-hour crisis line: (530) 342-7273

Rape Crisis Intervention Admin.: (530) 891-1331

Student Health Services: (530) 898-5241

Student Psychological Counseling: (530) 898-6345

University Police Department: (530) 898-5555

Women’s Center: (530) 898-5724