Why This Rising Statistic Is Actually a Good Thing

And today in news that doesn’t sound like good news, but actually is: According to the 2013 Clery reports for U.S. colleges and universities, the number of sexual assaults reported on campuses across the country is rising. But before you freak out, those higher numbers don’t necessarily suggest that more crime is taking place. According to experts, they suggest that more crimes are being reported after they’ve been committed. And that, if it's true, is an incredibly important development. Progress may be slow, but that doesn’t mean it’s not happening at all.

According to the Huffington Post, the 2013 reports filed on October 1 in accordance with the Clery Act show a trend of increased numbers of reported sexual assaults. The trend includes, but certainly isn’t limited to, the following schools:

  • Occidental College: 12 sexual assaults reported in 2011; 11 reported in 2012; 64 reported in 2013
  • University of California – Berkeley: 23 sexual assaults reported in 2012; 33 reported in 2013.
  • University of Southern California: 24 sexual assaults reported in 2011; 33 reported in 2013.
  • Harvard University: 26 sexual assaults reported in 2011; 40 reported in 2013.
  • University of Connecticut: 8 sexual assaults reported in 2011; 25 reported in 2013.

Passed in 1990, the Clery Act was named for Jeanne Clery, who was raped and murdered in her campus housing as a 19-year-old freshman at Lehigh University in 1986. The tragedy highlighted the huge discrepancy between the number of crimes perpetrated on campuses across the nation and the number of on-campus crimes that went unreported; the Clery Act, created in response, requires all colleges and universities in the U.S. that participate in federal financial aid programs to issue yearly safety and security reports detailing crimes committed on and near their campuses.

But in the 24 years since the Clery Act was signed, statistics about on-campus rape and sexual assault have been consistently inaccurate. According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), 60 percent of all sexual assaults go unreported. Furthermore, when it comes to assaults committed on college campuses, one in five women (or 20 percent) will have been sexually assaulted by the time she graduates — but only 12 percent of those assaults are reported. I keep thinking back to the way George Will dealt with those statistics in that awful column about “victim privilege” he ran over the summer. “Simple arithmetic demonstrates that if the 12 percent reporting rate is correct, the 20 percent assault rate is preposterous,” he wrote, as if it were inconceivable that the number of crimes reported versus the number that were actually committed wouldn’t match. Calling the 20 percent assault rate “preposterous” supposes that if it doesn’t match up to the report rate, someone must be lying. Continuing this fallacious reasoning, that means that if someone’s lying, it’s all those victims who say they were assaulted but didn’t report their assaults. Wills essentially suggested that the reason many of these so-called assaults weren't reported was that they didn’t actually happen.


But this latest round of Clery statistics shows that not only is the 20 percent assault rate not “preposterous,” the number of reports is starting to catch up to the number of crimes actually committed. And most importantly, it shows that victims are coming forward instead of remaining silent.

Furthermore, although a number of schools are under fire for the mishandling of sexual assault cases, some of them are actually setting examples for how it can be done well. HuffPo, for example, cites the University of Iowa: In 2010, the university had only seven reports of sexual assaults and other sex offenses; in 2012, the number of reports had risen to 20. It sends out campus-wide emails about assaults as they’re reported, keeping the entire university community informed and providing information about how to report sexual crimes. Taking into account student feedback, the info provided has even evolved to put more focus on bystander intervention — encouraging students to do something about it if they see it happen, rather than putting the onus on the victims to prevent themselves from being assaulted (as we keep saying: Instead of teaching people not to get raped, teach people not to rape in the first place). Said Monique DiCarlo, deputy Title IX coordinator for Iowa, to HuffPo, “If you can coordinate things so it’s not who’s more right but how can we be right together, your intervention and prevention efforts are going to be better.”

I sincerely hope that everything that’s going on right now — the Clery reports, Emma Sulkowicz’s “Carry That Weight/Mattress Performance” statement, the number of people increasingly calling schools out on their unacceptable handling of assault cases, and so much more — shows the beginning of a paradigm shift. We still have a long way to go, but I hope it signals the beginning of the end for rape culture. Because seriously: It’s about time.

Images: omerka/Flickr; Giphy (2)