Sexual assault statistics for college campuses are readily available, but often misleading.
The Clery Act, passed in 1990, requires all colleges and universities that participate in federal financial aid programs to report campus crime statistics and make them publicly accessible. However, those statistics are not universally reliable. An investigation by The Columbus Dispatch and the Student Press Law Center found in 2014 that Clery data can be “deceptively inaccurate.”
Victims’ reluctance to report, inconsistencies in reporting assaults that occur off-campus, honest mistakes and even deliberate misrepresentation of the facts can all lead to the Clery data’s unreliability when it comes to reflecting the reality of campus sexual assault, The Dispatch reported.
Finding the exact number of sexual assaults, on a campus or elsewhere, is notoriously difficult. Sexual crimes are often underreported and can be difficult to prove, and the wording of questions in surveys about sexual assault can often skew results, according the National Institute of Justice.
The line graph below shows the rate of reported forcible sex offenses at Ohio University’s Athens campus from 2002 to 2013, which is the most recent year data was available from the Clery Report.
The often-cited statistic that 1 in 5 women will be sexually assaulted over the course of her college career is also probably misleading, as the NIJ-funded 2007 study that found that statistic surveyed seniors at only two universities. Two of the researchers involved in that study later said the results were never intended to be representative of campuses nationwide.
A “conservative” estimate, according to The Dispatch, is the NIJ’s stat that 3 percent of female college students are sexually assaulted over the course of a nine-month school year.
Using that average, The Dispatch calculated the number of sexual assaults one would expect to find from colleges and universities in Ohio. The newspaper built an online database of information collected from more than a decade’s worth of Clery Report data and compared each school’s sexual assault totals with the expected totals that a 3 percent incidence rate among the female enrollment would produce.
The bar graph below displays the reported and expected totals of sexual assault incidents on the main campus at five Ohio colleges. In most cases, the expected total far exceeded the reported totals. In the case of Ohio State University, however, the reported total was actually lower than the expected total.