College Campus Rape Statistics

This post is meant to be  informative, but also includes a request for help. As much as I have criticized the data supplied by many police departments to the FBI, the numbers provided by colleges and universities seem more problematic. The media spotlight has turned onto campus rape in the wake of the bungled Jameis Winston investigation and Obama administration’s call to action. However, based upon the government’s data, the magnitude and nature of the problem of sexual violence at institutions of higher learning cannot be reliably determined.

The Department of Education data concerning over 11,000 higher education institutions in the country appears to be garbage. In 2012, for example, the individual school data only lists 45 non-forcible campus rapes nationwide. In contrast, there were 3,943 forcible campus rapes in the Department of Education data. We would expect non-forcible rapes to be far higher than forcible rape, especially on college campuses. And both rates are far below the national average and contrary to survey data about the rate of sexual assault on college campuses. Because it appears that elite and large state universities are reporting more forcible rapes, at least one author has tried to blame this on liberalism in academia. The far more likely explanation seems to be that the data is just worthless and/or most schools simply aren’t reporting rapes at all as required by law. Interestingly, the school facing the greatest scrutiny in 2012 in the aftermath of the revelations about Jerry Sandusky, Penn State, reports 56 forcible rapes, 22 more than the next highest school (and at least twice as many as all but 2 other schools). In contrast, in 2010, before the Sandusky investigation, Penn State reported only 4 forcible campus rapes based upon the Department of Education data. Almost 10,000 institutions are reported to have had 0 campus rapes in 2012. That’s simply unbelievable.

As I am hoping to research this topic a lot more in the coming months, I was hoping to contact someone about my concerns. However, I know no one in the Department of Education and the Department of Education website hosting the data provides no contact information that I can find to those actually responsible for collecting and organizing the data. If anyone can point me in the right direction or has some insight into the data, I would greatly appreciate help.

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6 Responses

  1. AndyK says:

    If the data is worthless, what does the Penn State example teach us?

    I believe the most likely explanation is that the Clery Act stick isn’t feared as much as public opinion, and that PSU is simply making up numbers to appear to be scrupulous. I would imagine colleges aim to report numbers more-or-less in line with previous years, and might increase numbers when they want to appear contrite, and might lower numbers back to the norm afterwards.

  2. Corey Yung says:

    I think your explanation is entirely at odds with the Penn State example and the rest of the data as it currently stands. Appearing scrupulous would not require Penn State to report 60% more rapes than any other of the 11,000+ higher education institutions (and that certainly doesn’t help public opinion either). And almost 90% of schools would not report zero rapes which can only raise questions. Penn State’s incredible 2-year increase in reported rapes would also seem to draw more attention to prior reports.

    I’m not sure what the data teaches us, but the Penn State rate of rape is the only school with a rate of rape close to surveys of college students. The goals of my research are to find out what is really happening on college campuses regarding rape and can be done to decrease sexual violence there. In its present form, the Department of Education data isn’t going to serve either goal well.

  3. AndyK says:

    Why would PSU’s reporting change so significantly if the legal requirements remained the same, unless the legal requirements serve no real role here? And if they serve no real role, why do we trust the increase in PSU’s reporting?

    One thing we certainly can’t say is that public scrutiny of PSU forced PSU to begin to comply with the letter of the law, because whether or not they are complying is exactly the question you’re asking.

    At the very least, we need to admit the possibility of sham overreporting, given the incentive structure.

  4. Corey Yung says:

    Sham overreporting seems unlikely as a general matter because over 89% of schools reported 0 rapes in 2012. As for PSU, and other schools subject to heightened scrutiny, there is no reliable practical means of overreporting. A school would have to invent fictitious complaints, victims, alleged rapists, and files. A school subject to a Title IX investigation doesn’t just get to make a number and expect no diligence from the investigators. Overreporting would also tend to hurt schools being scrutinized because there would be no corresponding punishment or hearings for the fictitious cases (making the argument stronger that the school is not taking rape cases seriously).

    I’m more than willing to conclude that the Department of Education is worthless, but it seems virtually impossible to contend that it provides evidence of overreporting. My hope is simply that something can be salvaged from the Clery Act data because it provides the closest apples-to-apples context with data outside of college.

  5. prometheefeu says:

    Here is another hypothesis:
    Premise: The rate of conviction for non-forcible rape is abysmally low, lower even than that for forcible rape.

    Premise: Victims of non-forcible rape are much more likely to be blamed and attacked than victims of forcible rape.

    Conclusion: Victims may rationally choose not to report non-forcible rapes.

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