The Washington Post recently crunched the data on sexual violence at college campuses; according to their findings, Penn State had the highest number of reported cases in 2012 — which was only fifty-six. Forty-five percent of schools with over 1,000 students, in fact, report zero rape cases for the entire year.
I'm sure some might read this data as reassuring. However, since one in five women will be sexually assaulted during their time at college, it's actually deeply worrying: as Emily Shire argues at the Daily Beast, it is "statistically impossible for a university not to have suffered any incidences of forcible sexual offenses on campus." Therefore, when a institution of higher learning reports zero instances of sexual violence, it doesn't mean that the campus is safe and happy and rape-free. What is really means is that students aren't coming forward — either because the administration is discouraging them from reporting or collecting misleading data, or because sexual assault survivors are afraid to speak out.
As Tracey Vitchers, a spokesperson for Students Active For Ending Rape (SAFER), told Shire:
"It's unreasonable to think any school has zero sexual assault or crime." Schools self-report Clery Act numbers, she explains, so there are a number of potential loopholes in the tracking. "There are some accusations of schools under-reporting or misrepresenting. Rather than labeling something as sexual assault, they may label it just as assault so it looks less severe," she says. A school with zero forcible sexual offenses may also indicate that "people aren't reporting because of other barriers."
Last month, several professors and sexual assault activists worked together to create a map based on the reporting data and this principle; it overlays the Clery sexual assault reporting numbers with the estimates of how many students, statistically, would be sexually assaulted on campus per year.