An Epidemic of College Rape and Sexual Assaults?

Observations

Is the emphasis on “college” rape elitist?

The rate of rape and sexual assault was 1.2 times higher for nonstudents (7.6 per 1,000) than for students (6.1 per 1,000).

Rape and sexual assaults (and all violent crimes) deserve our attention. Victims require our compassion. Their location doesn’t matter.

Author

Leonard Adam Sipes, Jr.

Thirty-five years of speaking for national and state criminal justice agencies. Former Senior Specialist for Crime Prevention for the Department of Justice’s clearinghouse. Former Director of Information Services, National Crime Prevention Council. Post-Masters’ Certificate of Advanced Study-Johns Hopkins University.

Washington Post

College: Awash in booze, governed by frats, treacherous ground for women who fall victim to boorish upperclassmen and end up bruised and violated, with an imperfect system of reporting and justice as their only remedy.

One might be led to conclude that American higher education somehow makes young women more vulnerable to aggression and abuse than the general population.

 new study from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, actually finds that between 1995 and 2013, college-aged women were 1.2 times more likely to experience rape or sexual assault when they were not in college. Washington Post

Article

Rape and sexual assault on college campuses is an emotional topic with hundreds of articles and reports claiming an epidemic of attacks.

I received a journalist’s question regarding the rate of rapes on college campuses. The reporter wanted to know the rate of rapes or sexual assaults on college campuses compared to the general public.

I replied that the rate on campuses was lower than those off campus. “That’s impossible,” she said. I’ve read endless articles claiming that they’re higher. You are the first to tell me otherwise.”

Some Perspective

After reading articles in the past addressing campus rapes, my uncertainty was the focus on “collegiate” assaults.

If true, why were assaults on the grounds of colleges more numerous than rapes elsewhere? What was the explanation?

As to the indignation, I asked myself, “Shouldn’t the emphasis be on denouncing rape regardless as to where they occur?”

My next question was the relationship between income and violent crime. Historically, violent crime is concentrated in lower income areas. Most who go to college represent higher household incomes.

“Persons in poor households at or below the Federal Poverty Level (39.8 per 1,000) had more than double the rate of violent victimization as persons in high-income households (16.9 per 1,000). “

“Serious violence (rape or sexual assault, robbery and aggravated assault) accounted for a greater percentage of violence among persons in poor households (38 percent) than in high-income households (27 percent).” Violent Crime and Income

The accusations and an emphasis on “college” rape and sexual assault just didn’t make sense from either an empirical or humanistic perspective.

The Data-Caveats

The data below comes from two federal reports (US Department of Education and the US Department of Justice) with editorial rearrangements for readability.

Campus Crime vs. Crime in the US

For those of you familiar with crime data, what follows from the US Department of Education will be tricky to comprehend. For example, burglaries comprise 50 percent of all criminal incidents reported on college campuses, where in the larger society, burglaries constitute a small portion of the most reported crime, larcenies.

Forcible sex offenses on college campuses constitute 25 percent of all crimes where rapes are a small portion of violent crimes elsewhere. FBI

Why is this important? For the data on rapes to make sense, the crime numbers on campus need to correspond somewhat to the larger national experience.  If they don’t, we need to know why.

Campus Increase for Sexual Assaults vs. Decrease for Sexual Assaults in the US

The number of reported forcible sex crimes on campus increased from 2,200 in 2001 to 6,700 in 2014 (a 205 percent increase due to a change in definition). Articles proclaim a huge increase in college sex assaults. Daily Beast

The number of violent crimes (including rapes) decreased considerably throughout the country over time. Using FBI numbers, the rate fell 50% between 1993 and 2015, the most recent full year available. Using the Bureau of Justice Statistics data, the rate fell by 77% during that span. Crime in America

It’s almost impossible to have a considerable decrease in sexual assaults in the US only to have them rise on college campuses.

Are Federal Agencies Talking to Each Other?

The data below is from the National Center for Education Statistics of the US Department of Education, and the Bureau of Justice Statistics of the US Department of Justice released in May of 2017. It does not reference US Department of Justice data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics in 2014, which contradicts some of the statistics below.

Terms Used

I am not an expert on campus rape and sexual assault. The data from both reports refer to rape, sexual assaults, forcible sexual offenses, and fondling. I’m not sure how interchangeable the terms are between the two agencies and the impact on the data reported.

First Report-Incidents at Postsecondary Institutions-US Dept. of Education

In 2014, about 27,000 criminal incidents on campuses at postsecondary institutions were reported to police and security agencies, representing a 2 percent decrease from 2013, when 27,400 criminal incidents were reported.

Among the various types of on-campus crimes reported in 2014, there were 13,500 burglaries, constituting 50 percent of all criminal incidents.

Other commonly reported crimes included forcible sex offenses (6,700 incidents, or 25 percent of crimes) and motor vehicle theft (2,900 incidents, or 11 percent of crimes).

On-campus crime patterns can also be examined over time: Between 2001 and 2014, the overall number of reported crimes decreased by 35 percent.

The number of on-campus crimes reported in 2014 was lower than the number reported in 2001 for every category except forcible sex offenses.

The number of reported forcible sex crimes on campus increased from 2,200 in 2001 to 6,700 in 2014 (a 205 percent increase).

Focusing on more recent data years, the number of reported forcible sex crimes increased by 34 percent between 2013 and 2014 (from 5,000 to 6,700).

It should be noted that data on reported forcible sex offenses were collected differently in 2014 than in prior years. In 2014, schools were asked to report the numbers of two different types of forcible sex offenses, rape and fondling, and these were added together to reach the total number of reported forcible sex offenses.

In years prior to 2014, schools only reported a total number of reported forcible sex offenses, with no breakouts for specific types of offenses.

About 4,400 rapes and 2,300 fondling incidents were reported in 2014.

The rates per 10,000 students for all types of reported on-campus crimes except forcible sex offenses were lower in 2014 than in 2001.

In the case of forcible sex offenses, the rate increased from 1.9 per 10,000 students in 2001 to 4.5 per 10,000 students in 2014.

Types of Institutions

More forcible sex offenses were reported at institutions with residence halls than at institutions without them (6.3 vs. 0.6 per 10,000 students).

Source: School and Campus Crimes

Second Report-Rape and Sexual Assault Victimization Among College-Age Females, 1995–2013-Dept. of Justice-Bureau of Justice Statistics

For the period 1995–2013, females ages 18 to 24 had the highest rate of rape and sexual assault victimizations compared to females in all other age groups.

For the period 1995–2013— The rate of rape and sexual assault was 1.2 times higher for nonstudents (7.6 per 1,000) than for students (6.1 per 1,000).

For both college students and nonstudents, the offender was known to the victim in about 80% of rape and sexual assault victimizations.

Rape and sexual assault victimizations of students (80%) were more likely than nonstudent victimizations (67%) to go unreported to police.

Across all types of violent crime, female students had a lower victimization rate than nonstudents.

For the period 1995–2013, the rate of violent victimization was 1.6 times higher for nonstudents (73.1 per 1,000) than students (46.3 per 1,000).

We have already noted that the number of violent crimes (including rapes) decreased considerably throughout the country over time. Between1993 and 2015, the most recent full year available, using the Bureau of Justice Statistics data, the rate fell by 77% during that span

DOJ

The Missing Children and Collegiate Rape Epidemics

The previously noted articles proclaiming an epidemic of college sexual assaults remind me of the “epidemic” of missing children abducted by strangers in earlier decades.

“There is no evidence of a stranger‐abduction epidemic, and there is no clear evidence for a child abduction epidemic overall.” Criminal Justice Studies

People were angry at federal and advocacy institutions for misleading the public about missing children. Recent articles state that the use of the words “misleading” and “myth” apply to reports on increasing campus sexual assaults.

Final Statement

Yes, college-related sexual assaults are heinous and repulsive regardless of the numbers, and the publicity brought needed attention to the problem of rape and sexual assault overall.

Yes, rape and sexual assaults are underreported, especially assaults on campus. This needs to be addressed.

But I’m not the only person who felt that the emphasis on “college” rape seemed elitist, as if our children on campuses where somehow more “deserving” of our attention than people not in college.

The federal Cleary Act requires timely warnings to staff and college students about crime. There are no similar provisions for the rest of us.

Rape and sexual assaults are repulsive regardless as to the location. Sexual assaults (and all violent crimes) deserve our attention. Victims require our compassion.

Their location doesn’t matter.

Contact us at [email protected].

Media on deadline, use [email protected].


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