Annual university Clery report raises questions about accuracy of sexual assault reporting
The number of reported sexual assaults at the University of Oregon more than doubled in 2012. Why? No one can say for certain.
From 2008 to 2011, reports hovered between nine and 13. According to the most recent data released Tuesday by the university in accordance with the Jeanne Clery Act, reported sexual assault cases went from 13 in 2011 to 30 in 2012.
Due to the chronic underreporting of sexual assaults — some estimate that more than 50 percent go unreported — Clery data can be difficult to interpret.
UOPD Communications Director Kelly McIver says that campus authorities don’t know for certain why the numbers have increased. Because of the UO community’s significant efforts to promote consent and raise awareness of sexual assault — including a new emphasis on mandatory assault reporting instituted by UOPD in the fall of 2011 — McIver speculates that the number of assaults hasn’t increased, rather the reporting has improved.
Federally funded universities are required to submit and publish an annual log of campus crime data in compliance with the Clery Act. Among the numbers reported is a statistic for forcible sexual offenses, which include fondling, rape, sodomy and assault. Recently, controversies on campuses such as the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and Yale have made the handling and reporting of sexual assaults a hotly contested issue.
The Clery report’s implications for UO students is complicated by a number of factors that determine how the numbers are reported — including the fact that crimes reported are geographically isolated to land contained within specific UO boundaries, or sanctioned for university events.
This means that data excludes the majority of student residences and locations of social gatherings — that’s where the majority of sexual assaults occur. Also, the numbers are not restricted to crimes committed against university students — anyone within the boundaries is counted. Additionally, the numbers represent all offenses reported within the designated calendar year, not just those committed within the time span.
Eugene Sexual Assault Support Services Center Director B.B. Beltran believes that the issue is much broader than the data can encompass and that a higher number of reports might not be indicative of more assaults.
“Are there trends? Is it getting worse? I don’t necessarily see that,” Beltran said. “I think looking at statistics is good but it’s only part of the situation.”
Caitlin Corona, coordinator for sexual violence prevention and education at the UO Women’s Center, agrees that the data for sexual assaults can be difficult to interpret.
“With rising statistics you can never know,” Corona said. “You want the rate of rape to go down, but you also want people to feel like they can report.”
All authorities agree that the data offers a limited picture of true sexual assault numbers due to the large number of unreported cases and the Clery Act’s particular specifications.
“With Clery’s focus on geography, I don’t think it’s that meaningful. Students don’t live their lives based on campus boundaries,” McIver said.
Along with the rest of the UO community, McIver said UOPD aims to reduce sexual assaults in their jurisdiction, and build a supportive environment where survivors can report.
Regardless of the reason for the higher numbers, he says, the more accurate the data, the more adept UOPD will be in combating the issue.
“When we know that the number of reported incidents are lower than actually exist, it’s hard to say we want that to go down,” McIver said. “Because frankly, we’d rather know with greater certainty how many assaults are happening … we can be involved in trying to prevent these things.”