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Almost 90% of Colleges Reported No Rapes in 2015 — Here's Why That's a Problem

When colleges report zero sexual assaults, it's a sign that students aren't reporting their attacks.


By Jake New at Teen Vogue, Allure

Contradicting the reality of campus sexual assault, nearly 90 percent of colleges reported zero incidents of rape in 2015, according to data newly released by the U.S. Department of Education.

[post_ads]About 11,000 institutions disclosed their most recent annual crime reports, as required by the Clery Act. The American Association of University Women (AAUW) then analyzed the data and found that 89 percent of colleges disclosed zero reports of rape.

While so many schools reporting so few rapes may sound like something to celebrate, Lisa Maatz, vice president of government relations at AAUW, says the finding is actually troubling.

“It does not present the reality in terms of what we know to be happening, based on research, based on school climate surveys, based on student reports,” Maatz told Teen Vogue. “If we know sexual assault is happening, which we do, and so many colleges are reporting zero instances of rape, then it suggests that students are not reporting when they are raped... What is it about the systems that schools have in place that is leading to students not coming forward to report?”

Colleges similarly reported few incidents of dating violence and stalking. Only 9 percent of schools disclosed reports of domestic violence and about 13 percent disclosed reports of stalking. Those schools that disclosed reports of rape were typically also the schools that disclosed reports of other kinds of violence, the AAUW report noted, suggesting that “some schools have built the necessary systems to welcome and handle reports, support survivors, and disclose accurate statistics — and others have not.”

The Clery data bears little resemblance to prominent research about sexual assault, as well as climate surveys on individual campuses. In 2015, the Association of American Universities surveyed 27 institutions and found that nearly one-quarter of female undergraduate students said they had experienced a sexual assault of some kind, supporting the oft-cited statistic that one in five women are sexually assaulted while in college. A national survey conducted that same year by The Washington Post and Kaiser found similar rates, as did campus climate surveys at institutions such as Rutgers University and the University of Michigan.
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“If I’m at a school where I know one in five women are probably being sexually assaulted...and I’m getting zero reports,” Maatz says, “that’s saying that I don’t have the right support in place and that we haven’t put the word out that we want to know and want to help.”

Critics have argued that surveys supporting the one-in-five statistic often use too broad a definition for sexual assault that conflates rape with other forms of sexual violence, such as unwanted kissing. When the definition of sexual assault is limited to rape, however, research like the AAU and Post/Kaiser surveys still found that 11 percent of female undergraduates reported being sexually assaulted.

Even with disagreement on how best to define sexual assault for research purposes, it’s clear that zero incidents of rape reported by so many colleges simply don't add up. Maatz stresses that it’s vital that the federal government’s data line up with reality: “I think the data is hugely important," she says. “For one, it provides transparency, not just in terms of violence against women, but all campus violence. And it gives us a snapshot about what schools are doing in terms of prevention and response.” How schools report and address sexual assault is particularly important with the continued uncertainty over how the U.S. Department of Education under President Donald Trumpwill tackle the issue.

More on sexual assault:

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When colleges report zero sexual assaults, it's a sign that students aren't reporting their attacks.
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