When it comes to reporting, only a small percentage of students who experience sexual violence are actually accounted for in an institution’s annual security report (ASR). The ASR is generally referred to as the Clery Report, after the Jeanne Clery Act, which requires colleges and universities that receive federal funding to publish yearly data about designated crimes on campus, including forcible and non-forcible sexual offenses.
Are institutions contributing to the issue of underreporting? In 2014, 89% of schools reported zero sexual assaults in their Clery Report. Based on what we know about the incidence of sexual assault on campus, it is highly unlikely that so many institutions truly had no sexual assaults, but rather that students (for one reason or another) did not feel that they could come forward to report.
A research study called Concealing Campus Sexual Assault conducted by Corey Yung examined whether there is a difference in counts of sexual assault in years when institutions are being audited for Clery Act violations compared to other years. Comparing data from years before and after an audit, the study found that institutions count of sexual assaults increased by 44% during the audit period and then dropped to levels comparable to before the audit began. This certainly suggests that institutions do a better job of reporting sexual assaults when they are under the microscope of an audit, but they fail to keep up this rigor once they are out of the spotlight.
Climate surveys are one tool college and university administrators can turn to for a clearer picture of the prevalence of sexual violence. There is often a marked difference between sexual assault prevalence rates in anonymous surveys of university students compared to the institution’s annual security report. This is demonstrated in the Campus Sexual Assault (CSA) study conducted at two large, public institutions which found that approximately one in five women were survivors of sexual assault. In contrast, the Clery Report data in the study indicated that 0.02% of students are sexually assaulted in a given year.
The underreporting of sexual assaults in Clery Reports is fairly common knowledge in the field. Diane Moyer, the Legal Director of the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape (pdf) is known for saying this about incidents of sexual assault: “This will sound counterintuitive, but I actually tell parents to send their kids to the college or university with the highest number of sexual assaults reported through the Clery Act, because these schools are probably most aware of the campus sexual assault problems.”
Vector Solutions (formerly Everfi's Campus Prevention Network) Climate Survey data from 23 institutions shows the same underreporting phenomenon. Below are the number of reported sexual assaults through our campus climate survey compared to the Clery Report data for the same 23 schools. The climate surveys did not have 100% participation, so the number of reports is likely an underestimate of the actual number of students who experiences a sexual assault at their school. We see huge discrepancies between the two data points for every single institution.
Why are so few incidents of sexual violence captured in the Clery Report? According to Vector Solutions campus climate survey, one-third of male survivors tell no one and one-fifth of female survivors tell no one about the incident. Students who experienced sexual assault were particularly unlikely to report the incident to the police (only 5% of victims did so) or to their school (7%) according to a Department of Justice report. The top reason survivors give for not telling anyone is they feel it is a private matter and want to handle it on their own.
Vector's climate survey data show that survivors who receive training on the procedures necessary to investigate a complaint are 60% more likely to report an incident than those who had not received training.
Why are Clery Report numbers so important? It is important to acknowledge each number represents a survivor’s experience with sexual violence. And if we want to understand how significant the problem is on our campus, we must have reliable prevalence data to identify trends over time. Resource allocation happens based on data. Accurate numbers help make a case for additional funding and staff to improve prevention and response.
The Clery Report as it stands today is not a reliable measure of acts of sexual violence taking place at the institution. While climate surveys can provide more reliable prevalence data, they do not provide ability to follow up with individual survivors or hold students accountable given the anonymous nature of the survey. Only through training can we hope to bridge the gap between the Clery Report and the Climate Survey reporting. Vector's Climate Survey data shows that students who are properly trained on how to report an act of sexual violence are more likely to report. Students who think the reporting process is fair and helpful are more likely to report positive things about their institution.
Information like this can help improve our policies, our training programs, and our critical processes to create an environment where survivors feel safe and supported enough to report their experiences.
More information on Clery Act requirements and best practices can be found in The Handbook for Campus Safety and Security Reporting.