A Kansas University law professor whose previous research showed more than 1 million rape cases went unreported in official U.S. crime statistics has published new research indicating underreporting appears widespread on college campuses as well.
Universities across the country are likely underreporting on-campus sexual assaults by as much as 44 percent, according to Corey Rayburn Yung, whose research was recently published in an article in the journal Psychology, Public Policy, and Law.
The Clery Act requires more than 11,000 schools to submit campus crime information to the Department of Education, Yung said. Of those, he limited his study to 269 institutions with 10,000 or more students.
The Department of Education can launch an investigation at random or because of a specific on-campus event or problem.
Since 2001, only 31 of the 269 schools were audited in regard to their crime numbers — KU was not one of them — and Yung’s research showed that during those 31 investigations, reported sexual assaults rose nearly 44 percent.
But after those investigations, sexual assault rates dropped back to levels “statistically indistinguishable” from the rates before the audit.
In contrast, reported rates of other crimes — aggravated assault, robbery and burglary — showed no statistical variation during the investigations.
That’s troubling, Yung said.
“Each of those crimes has a very different dynamic,” he said. “I don’t mean to say they are a direct comparison. But the only one that shows this fluctuation during the audit is sexual assault.”
With numbers alone, Yung’s study does not reveal why campuses might be underreporting sexual assaults. There could be a number of reasons, he said, such as schools wanting to appear safe to prospective students or succumbing to pressure to show they are reducing crime. He said campus sexual assault cases — which often involve questions of consent, incapacitation and acquaintances — also can be more easily dismissed because of “lack of evidence” than other crimes.
“I think it varies substantially from campus to campus why sexual assaults may be underreported, but the evidence shows that undercounting is taking place,” Yung said.
In order to help universities better address the problem of campus sexual assault, Yung — who serves on KU’s Sexual Assault Task Force — said it’s important to push for more data that would help bridge that gap in information.
For one, he said, legislation is needed that would require universities to further break down data, such as tallying locations and natures of sexual assaults. He said it would also be valuable to know where complaints fall off the radar in university systems, such as at what point a victim chooses not to continue with a complaint to the university or criminal prosecution.
“It’s important to know not just the magnitude of the problem but also the nature,” he said.
Capt. James Anguiano, a spokesman for KU Office of Public Safety, said KU does report all claims of sexual assault in accordance with the Clery Act.
KU must report assaults that come in via campus law enforcement or the Office of Institutional Opportunity and Access, he said, even when the victim chooses not to file a formal police report.
Anguiano said the Office of Public Safety meets with the Office of Institutional Opportunity and Access each year to verify they are not double-reporting, such as when the same incident is reported to both police and KU administration.
Yung’s research on cities underreporting rapes was published March 2014 in the Iowa Law Review. “How to Lie with Rape Statistics: America’s Hidden Rape Crisis,” reviewed crime data from 1995 to 2012 and showed an estimated 1.2 million rapes were not included in the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report.