Most college rape cases don’t make headlines. In fact, according to the Department of Justice, 95 percent of sexual assaults on campuses are never reported. And with good reason: Female students know dismissiveness and harassment are much more likely outcomes than justice. They’re made to testify in front of untrained student boards, fielding humiliating questions about their clothes and sexual history, and forced to sit in class with their attackers.
Even the cases on which schools take action rarely result in more than a slap on the wrist. A study by the Center for Public Integrity found that common “punishments” for campus rapists include making them send letters of apology to their victims and writing research papers on rape. Rape is a crime that, outside of a college setting, would be met with jail time, yet these perpetrators are hardly ever even expelled. (This is a particularly troubling finding given that most attackers are repeat offenders: One study showed that a rapist will have as many as six victims in his college career.)
To add insult to injury, colleges are refusing to admit these rapes occur, instead finding it easier to brush the stories under the rug — even though they’re obligated to report them.
According to the Clery Act, colleges must report crime statistics to the U.S. Department of Education. Erin Burrows, who works on campus accountability at Students Active for Ending Rape, notes there are “numerous problems with schools finding ways to skirt their reporting obligations.” In fact, Burrows noted, “most schools claim to have reports of zero or perhaps one sexual assault in the last three years.”
Given that 18 to 20 percent of women experience rape or another type of sexual assault during their college years, something is not adding up. “A report of zero is … evidence that the reporting infrastructure is not conducive to students coming forward for support,” Burrows says.
College administrators find loopholes for limiting their reporting: Rapes are mischaracterized as “non-forcible” sexual offenses; rapes involving students off campus aren’t counted; and victims are directed to rape advocacy programs instead of campus police because counselors, bound by confidentiality, are prohibited from reporting the crimes. As of 2002, the Department of Justice found that less than 37 percent of schools report crime statistics in accordance with the Clery Act.
But why would colleges do something so harmful to their students? The simple answer is money. Higher education is a $400 billion-a-year business, and it behooves colleges not to give parents the full picture.