Data Penn State reported as part of its Clery Act compliance show that University Park saw the most reported alleged sexual offenses from 2010-12 of any American university with more than 1,000 enrolled students, according to the Washington Post.
The data show that Penn State had four alleged forcible sexual assaults at University Park in 2010 before seeing spikes to 24 (with six more off-campus) in 2011 and 56 (and an additional seven off-campus) in 2012 for a total of 84 on-campus incidents. The 2012 total was the highest in the nation by far, as Michigan was next with 34. The 2011 total was the third-highest in the nation behind Cal (30) and Ohio State (28). But those numbers require clarification: Penn State spokeswoman Lisa Powers said that of the sixty-three 2012 incidents, 36 referred to reports between 1970 and 2011, some of which referenced Jerry Sandusky’s crimes. Furthermore, 11 of the 2011 incidents also referenced prior incidents, though these were attributed to victims who came forward because of increased awareness generated from the Sandusky scandal.
All universities have to report these statistics as part of the Clery Act, but it’s important to remember that some universities take stronger steps than others to ensure victims come forward. The Post notes that universities with lower reporting rates are not necessarily safer than those with higher ones. The Freeh Report lambasted Penn State’s Clery Act compliance and implementation, resulting in Penn State’s training of more than 7,000 individuals on the avenues of reporting sexual offenses.
On the surface, these numbers might seem troubling. But given the common nature of sexual assault and relative rarity of its reporting, they actually present good news, explains Kristen Houser of the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape. She cited a study by the U.S. Bureau of Statistics that said 20-25 percent of college women might experience attempted or completed rape in their college careers [clarification: only about 5 percent of college women will experience an attempted or completed rape in a given year — the 20-25 percent mark generalizes for a five-year college career], so the mark of 84 is still representing a vast underreporting. According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, about 54 percent of rapes are not reported to police, and the U.S. Justice Department says that fewer than 5 percent of college incidents are reported. The 84 reported assaults indicate that Penn State’s efforts to help victims of sexual assault come forward have been working.
“In a community like Penn State, with everything that has happened here, all of a sudden you have a community that is talking about sexual assault, talking about how offenders respond,” Houser said. “We’ve had fundraisers, better awareness, concerts on campus, you name it. What that does is that tells sexual assault survivors at Penn State that we’re talking about this and discussing the need for victims to come forward.”
Indeed, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) told the Post that she was more concerned with the 45 percent of universities that did not report any incidents of alleged on-campus sex offenses. “We’ve got to explain to the public that they should not hold a university responsible for some failure if the number of sexual assault reports go up,” she told the paper.
There is a possibility that, because Penn State has higher numbers of reporting, a positive correlation exists between the number of actual crimes and reports (that is, as one number goes up, so does that other). But that’s highly unlikely, especially considering many of these reports come from Sandusky’s crimes and the Bureau of Statistics report is widely accepted to represent an average university.
“Any increase in reporting sexual violence may have a multitude of factors at the root. We certainly believe training is effective, and we know that if more people are aware they are generally more likely to come forward and report,” Powers said. “That’s a good thing, since we know this is a crime that is vastly under-reported.”
Increased reporting is a good sign, but it would be better if that was never needed in the first place, obviously. Penn State has taken strides to combat the actual sexual offenses — UPUA’s Sexual Violence Prevention Roundtable has conducted awareness campaigns and programming to combat the issue and encourage reporting, and Men Against Violence sponsor the annual Walk A Mile In Her Shoes, to name some. Also, University Park police have changed their protocols in regard to reporting to be more inclusive in crime reports.
“I guarantee you that the [84 reports] is not 20 percent of undergraduate women,” Houser said. “It’s still grossly underreported, but the fact that we have numbers creeping higher is news that something is right there.”