Concealing Campus Sexual Assault: An Empirical Examination

On October 1 of every year, higher education institutions across the country are required to publish reports containing crime data for the previous calender year. So, it seemed appropriate today that I would post a draft of my article about whether universities are giving accurate information in those reports regarding sexual assault. The draft is available here and this is the abstract:

This study tests whether there is substantial undercounting of sexual assault by universities. It compares the sexual assault data submitted by universities while being audited for Clery Act violations with the data from years before and after such audits. If schools report higher rates of sexual assault during times of higher regulatory scrutiny (audits), then that result would support the conclusion that universities are failing to accurately tally incidents of sexual assault during other time periods. The study finds that university reports of sexual assault increase by approximately 44% during the audit period. However, after the audit is completed, the reported sexual assault rates drop to levels statistically indistinguishable from the pre-audit time frame. The results are consistent with the hypothesis that the ordinary practice of universities is to undercount incidents of rape. Only during periods in which schools are audited do they appear to offer a more complete picture of sexual assault levels on campus. Further, the data indicate that the audits have no long-term effect on the reported levels of sexual assault as those crime rates return to previous levels after the audit is completed. This last finding is supported even in instances when fines are issued for non-compliance. The results of the study point toward two broader conclusions directly relevant to policymaking in this area. First, greater financial and personnel resources should be allocated commensurate with the severity of the problem and not based solely on university reports of sexual assault levels. Second, the frequency of auditing should be increased and statutorily-capped fines should be raised in order to deter transgressors from continuing to undercount sexual violence. The Campus Accountability and Safety Act, presently before Congress, provides an important step in that direction.

I will be continuing to post about sexual assault at universities and the findings of the study over the next week or two.

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