New federal data shows rape reports on KU’s Lawrence campus last year more than doubled

photo by: Shawn Valverde/Special to the Journal-World

The University of Kansas campus is pictured in this aerial photo from September 2023 with the Campanile in the foreground.

Story updated at 4:36 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 25:

The number of reported rapes on the University of Kansas’ Lawrence campus last year more than doubled from a year earlier.

The number of “dating violence” crimes also soared, increasing more than tenfold, according to recently released campus crime numbers.

But whether sexual violence crimes actually are increasing at such a rapid rate on the Lawrence campus is still an open question for KU leaders. A university spokeswoman said the increased numbers also could be a sign that individuals feel more comfortable reporting such incidents, even if their prevalence hasn’t increased from past years.

“The key distinction is understanding the difference between the ‘apparent increase in crime’ and an increase in reports of harm,” spokeswoman Erinn Barcomb-Peterson said via email.

Whatever the case, the numbers were up significantly. The university had 28 rape reports during the 2022 calendar year, according to numbers included in the federally mandated Clery Act report that all universities must compile and release in October.

The 28 rape reports were up from 11 in 2021 and 12 in 2020. All 28 of the rape reports were alleged to have occurred in on-campus, residential housing facilities, such as dorms, scholarship halls or university-owned apartments.

Additionally, there were 23 reports of dating violence on the Lawrence campus in 2022, up from two in 2021 and six in 2020. Stalking incidents also nearly doubled on the Lawrence campus from a year ago. There were 23 stalking reports in 2022, up from 12 in 2021 and 14 in 2020.

Getting to the bottom of whether KU is seeing a true increase in crime or whether victims are becoming more comfortable in reporting crimes — or some combination thereof — seemingly is important. One might point to a success in efforts aimed at educating victims on the importance of reporting crime, while the other might point to a growing campus safety problem.

Definitive answers were hard to come by on Wednesday. KU officials are prohibited from providing many details about the actual incidents reported. But one year’s worth of data can be subject to statistical anomalies. Barcomb-Peterson said the Clery Act requires that incidents occurring at different times or locations with the same people involved be counted as multiple incidents. The federal act also requires that the university list all reports of such crimes, regardless of whether they are substantiated or able to be further investigated.

While KU leaders can’t say definitively that the increased incident numbers are related to better reporting rather than a spike in crime, Barcomb-Peterson said there’s reason to believe students are becoming more comfortable in reporting incidents.

“As the Sexual Assault Prevention & Education Center continues to educate and empower students to recognize sexual violence, intimate partner violence and stalking, we would expect the number of reports made to KU to increase,” Barcomb-Peterson said. “If students have experienced harm, then reporting to the institution is a good thing. It reflects a positive level of institutional trust.”

KU has experienced significant increases in rape and sexual assault numbers at various times in the past decade, and leaders have pointed to increased awareness and reporting as a possible reason behind the higher numbers.

However, KU also has ranked highly in incidence rates for sexual violence compared to other Big 12 universities. The Journal-World in 2021 analyzed Clery Act data for every Big 12 University. It found from 2014 to 2019, KU had the third-highest incidence rate in the conference — measured by number of reports per 1,000 students — for rape and fondling reports. KU’s incidence rate over that time period was 16% above the Big 12 average.

The Lawrence-based Sexual Trauma & Abuse Care Center may be the outside organization that works most closely with KU students who have experienced sexual assault or abuse. However, attempts to reach a representative of the organization on Wednesday were unsuccessful.

The Willow Domestic Violence Center, also based in Lawrence, deals more with the broader category of domestic abuse. Interim Executive Director Jessica Beeson said her group didn’t have enough information to comment specifically on the reported increase in rape and dating violence at KU.

But she said incidents of domestic violence in the broader Lawrence community remain concerning. She said even though some of the challenges of the pandemic — people spending more time together in cramped quarters — have eased, there is still a lot of evident stress leading to issues of violence.

“I do think people’s stress level and collective trauma that we went through together has increased everyone’s stress level and impacted our ability to cope with things,” Beeson said. “I don’t know how that is playing in (to KU’s numbers) but I do know our numbers are up.”

Beeson said no matter the cause, education and prevention efforts should be paramount. She said her organization has had good working relationships with many KU departments, including the campus police force, to provide training and resources related to domestic violence.

“Just getting those ambassadors in leadership that will really push the message out is very important,” Beeson said.

Barcomb-Peterson said KU considers itself a national leader on prevention and education on issues surrounding sexual assault. It has had the Sexual Assault Prevention & Education Center (SAPEC) since 2015.

KU has mandatory online sexual harassment awareness training for all undergraduate, graduate and non-degree seeking students. All first-year undergraduate freshmen also participate in Jayhawks Give a Flock, which is a program that trains bystanders to responsibly intervene in situations they spot. The university also makes multiple presentations to student organizations, sororities, fraternities and other groups.

“Through SAPEC, we are preventing harm by changing attitudes, behaviors and beliefs within our students, and that is not a simple or quick fix,” Barcomb-Peterson said. “SAPEC continues to be a national leader in sexual violence prevention education, with innovative practices recognized across higher education.”

The latest Clery Act report provides data for a number of other crimes on campus. Here’s a look at other categories of crime reported on the Lawrence campus:

• Burglary: eight in 2022, down from 12 in 2021 and up from five in 2020.

• Motor vehicle theft: 12 in 2022, down from 15 in 2021 and up from nine in 2020.

• Drug law arrests: 13 in 2022, down from 18 in 2021 and 15 in 2020.

• Weapon law arrests: zero in all three years.

• Domestic violence: seven in 2022, up from six in 2021 and two in 2020.


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