Reporting Law for On-Campus Rapes Underestimates Real Numbers
Fewer than 0.1 percent of SMU students were sexually assaulted on-campus from 2010 to 2012. But what about other DFW schools? And how accurate is that number?
On Sunday night, an SMU student was raped while jogging just off campus. There are no details so far about the girl, other than the fact that she was assaulted in one of the nicest neighborhoods in town, in University Park. But her case is much more common than statistics would lead us to believe, despite a federal law aimed at keeping count of crimes on and near college campuses.
Part of the Clery Act requires schools to report the number of annual campus sexual assault cases to the Department of Education and mandates that schools be as transparent about crime as possible with students. Still, some schools are better than others at encouraging students to report their assaults, and the law's requirements leave gaps that make collecting accurate data difficult.
Based on Clery data, The Washington Post compiled the number of on-campus sexual assaults from 2010-2012 for schools across the country. But what the Clery numbers indicate is not so much the number of students that are sexually assaulted on campus each year, but rather the school's record of reporting.
Here's the percentage of students, according to Clery data, who were assaulted on-campus at DFW universities between 2010 and 2012:
- UT Southwestern Med School: .25%
- Texas Christian University: .18%
- University of Dallas: .08%
- Southern Methodist University: .07%
- Texas Wesleyan University: .06%
- UT Arlington: .05%
- Texas Woman's University: .03%
- University of North Texas: .02%
- UT Dallas: .005%
- UNT Health Science Center: 0%
- Dallas Theological Seminary: 0%
- Dallas Baptist University: 0%
But Dr. John Foubert, an expert on campus sexual violence from Oklahoma State University, says that numbers drawn from Clery report data are likely very inaccurate. In fact, Foubert says all the schools on this list are probably averaging around 5 percent student sexual assaults per year, according to the American College Health Association and the Department of Justice.
"Universities have an incentive to report low rates of rape, because they don't want to be dubbed the rape campus," he says. "Schools promote themselves as safe campuses. Any report of rape works against that narrative, and so they want to keep that quiet. I think some campuses that have a greater sense of responsibility don't want to keep it quiet, but there are others that will do just about anything to keep it from getting out."
Foubert says that a campus of 10,000 students, roughly the size of SMU, would expect to have around 250 women raped or almost raped every year. But according to Clery data, the university only reported 8 sexual assaults between 2010 and 2012. Which could indicate that student victims either aren't stepping forward or they report the crime to city police so that it isn't included in school data.
And unfortunately, Foubert says that, too often, campus police departments across the country will actively work not to have to include the information in a report. "I have personal knowledge of campus police department who will question the survivor in a way that she interprets as blaming, and they continue to try to find the evidence," he says. "They often check a box that says 'unfounded,' and if the victim feels she's not going to be believed, she often says she won't testify. So it's this really sick way of undermining women. I'm aware of several cases where that happens."
Foubert concedes there is some variability from campus to campus that makes comparing schools difficult. External factors, such as bad surrounding neighborhood, poor reporting, number of fraternities on campus, requirements that students to live on-campus and other variables can influence the number of crimes.
"The rapes that happen the most are acquaintance rape, regardless of the type of neighborhood or school. But right now we really don't have good data to compare one campus to another," says Foubert. "My guess is they're holding pretty close to that 5 percent on most college campuses every year."
Which is good news for SMU. They're likely no worse than any other North Texas school, but are substantially better at reporting assault cases than a school the size of UNT. In any case, Foubert says that exact number would be extremely difficult to determine, as there will always be many cases where the victim does not speak out.
The girl who was raped on Sunday night was attacked just off campus, but authorities are not yet certain whether her case will be included in Clery data for this year. "There's a geographic distance around campus that's required to go in the Clery," says Kent Best, a spokesman for SMU. In an e-mail, he elaborated official policy:
"[Clery data includes] Disclos[ing] crime statistics for the campus, unobstructed public areas immediately adjacent to or running through the campus, and certain non-campus facilities, including Greek housing and remote classrooms. The statistics must be gathered from campus police or security, local law enforcement, and other University/College officials who have significant responsibility for students and campus activities."
Update 5:05 p.m.: Best emailed further information about Sunday's assault in University Park: "Sunday's reported sexual assault occurred in the police jurisdiction of University Park; consequently, it will not be reported under Clery."
In any case, the fact that the girl reported her crime makes her just part of the tiny margin that actually does report their sexual assaults to the schools. While SMU's number of reported cases will rise if her case is included in Clery, the more the school reports and is therefore closer to an accurate number of sexually assaulted students, the better.
"I don't want to blame the schools for not reporting, but campuses need to work to gain the trust of women and men, so they know that they can come to talk to them and that they will help you," says Foubert. "And if they don't help you with that, they're going to have a very low rate on their Clery report because people aren't going to talk about it."