A new study published by the American Psychological Association finds that many colleges and universities are underreporting sexual assault cases on campus. Many of the schools had previously been cited by the U.S. Department of Education for underreporting, and some of them even heavily fined, which has apparently done nothing to make them more honest.
The study, which we saw via Think Progress, looked at 31 colleges and universities, who, as a reminder, are legally required to report their crime statistics to their federal government under the Clery Act. During the study, led by Corey Rayburn Yung, a law professor at the University of Kansas, all those schools were being audited for their compliance in reporting their crime statistics.
Yung found that during the audits, the number of reported sexual assaults on the campuses jumped, in a way that didn't happen with any other crime that they're required to report to the feds—aggravated assault, burglary, or robbery, for example. After the audit was concluded, the sexual assault numbers would mysteriously dip back down—looking for all the world like colleges only make a serious effort at accurate reporting when they're directly under the watchful eye of the feds.
In a statement, Yung said the study showed that schools are downplaying or ignoring their sexual assault problem:
Colleges and universities still aren't taking the safety of their students from sexual assault seriously. The study shows that many universities continue to view rape and sexual assault as a public relations issue rather than a safety issue. They don't want to be seen as a school with really high sexual assault numbers, and they don't want to go out of their way to report that information to students or the media.
The schools aren't strictly required to report off-campus sexual assaults of students, although they're supposed to make a "good faith effort" to get that information from the local police department. The result, Yung said, is that the "vast majority" of schools claimed they'd had no off-campus sexual assaults, which is very unlikely.
Schools can be fined up to $35,000 for each violation of the Clery Act, a whopping-sounding figure that evidently doesn't do much to motivate them to make an effort to make their reporting more accurately. Yung recommends raising that fine, which Congress is currently considering, as well as doing more frequent audits. He also recommends placing problematic schools on probation until they clean up their act:
Schools with serious violations of Clery Act crime data reporting should be placed on a probation system that warrants greater punishment for future violations. This would help abate the current pattern of schools returning to apparent undercounting practices as soon as the DoE is no longer applying high levels of scrutiny as part of the audit process.
You can read the full study here.
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