College Sexual Assault Reports Have Gone Up 52% In 10 Years, And That's Probably A Good Thing
A new study released Tuesday by the U.S. Department of Education on school crime and safety revealed what appears to be a troubling statistic - sexual assault reports at college campus have increased more than 50% in 10 years.
According to the DOE study, "The number of reported forcible sex crimes on campus reported increased by 52 percent, from 2,200 in 2001 to 3,300 in 2011." Put another way, there were 2.2 sexual assault reports for every 10,000 full-time students in 2011, compared with 1.9 reports per 10,000 students in 2001.
This 50% rise is roughly consistent with other studies of college sexual assault reports.
Earlier this year, NPR found that "forcible rape" reports at four-year colleges increased 49% between 2008 and 2012. Likewise, a Boston Globe investigation into federal data revealed that "forcible sex offense" reports rose by almost 40% in Boston-area colleges between 2008 and 2012.
However, as NPR notes, these are arguably positive statistics (emphasis ours): "That increase shows that sexual assault is a persistent and ugly problem on college campuses. But there's also a way to look at the rise in reports and see something positive: It means more students are willing to come forward and report this underreported crime."
Various studies have found that around one in five college females will be the victim of sexual assault during their time on campus and that around 90-95% of these sexual assaults go unreported.
"When we see sexual assault numbers increase, that hopefully means the barriers to reporting are finally beginning to be addressed, which means you are beginning the steps to solve the problem," S. Daniel Carter, director of the 32 National Campus Safety Initiative, told The Globe.
There is still a massive difference between the one in five statistic - notably cited by the White House earlier this year - and the new DOE report's 2.2 sexual assault reports per 10,000 students. It is important to note that academic and other independant studies are usually conducted using responses from anonymous college students, rather than the DOE's report, which is exclusively using data from official police reports.
It is also notable that the DOE study defines "forcible sexual offenses" as "any sexual act directed against another person forcibly and/or against that person's will."
Likely, this rise can partially be attributed to increased education on college campuses about what constitutes sexual assault - for example, date rape, sexual coercion, or other situations where one person is unable to give consent.
As Los Angeles Times columnist Sandy Brooks wrote in May, "We're not talking about strangers jumping out of bushes. The majority of campus sexual assaults are committed by someone the victim knows, and involve overuse of alcohol or drugs."
Brooks cites a National Institute of Justice study, which, as she writes, found that 14% of college women "said someone had sexual contact with them when they were passed out or too drunk to be able to stop or provide consent ... [but] only 37% of the women the study classified as rape victims believed that what happened to them was rape."