Skip to content

Campus Rape Reporting

January 22, 2009

After yesterday’s Dexter Yarbrough posts, a discussion ensued at Feministing and here about campus rape reporting.

Now, there are a lot of reasons that college is not a universal experience: the university experience is much more prevalent among the affluent, denizens of G-10 countries, white folks, etc. It is an over-discussed and over-analyzed set of experiences. But in discussing sexual assault, the university experience is one of several that throw a high concentration of young adults together in the presence of stress and alcohol — the military, in nations where women serve in large numbers, is another. So it’s worth talking about for that reason alone.

For a few years now I’ve wondered how many women are pressured into silence. I’ve heard stories anecdotally, and I feel like there’s a lot more under the surface.

One thing that stands out to me is that American universities have a motive to suppress women’s stories. They are subject to the Clery Act, which requires that they report the number of violent crimes, including rape, on campus. I can’t prove it, but my gut tells me that the Clery Act is, as lawyers sometimes say, “honored in the breach,” that underreporting is systematic and routine. It’s not as if nobody pays attention to it: Security On Campus seems to deal almost exclusively with Clery Act compliance. But the fine for failure to report is only $27,500, so the penalties for nonreporting are not stiff enough to deter, in my view, a school from trying to dissuade survivors from reporting. And the numbers just seem so low. To unfairly single out a school, at Penn State’s University Park campus, the Clery Act reports show an average of about 8 forcible rapes, and not a single non-forcible sexual assault, for 2005/6/7. Does anybody believe that’s the number of rapes on campus there? That that’s the number reported to rape crisis services? Obviously, it’s artificially low, reflecting massive underreporting. And I’m not trying to single out Penn State here, I just needed an example.

I don’t believe any rape survivor owes it to anyone else to report. Some of the underreporting has to do with cultural forces far beyond the University. But given universities’ reporting obligation, I wonder if women are encountering patterns and practices that dissuade them from making complaints to campus police.

What are your experiences? Anybody know anything?

Crossposted at Feministing Community

add to del.icio.usAdd to Blinkslistadd to furlDigg itadd to ma.gnoliaStumble It!add to simpyseed the vineTailRankpost to facebook

13 Comments leave one →
  1. eghead permalink
    January 22, 2009 10:51 pm

    I’m not really sure what the first part of this post was implying. Maybe I need to read this discussion you allude to, but it sounds like you’re defending the need to even talk about rape at universities because *mostly* white, affluent people go there. Firstly, there are plenty of minorities and merit-based scholarship recipients at my college (including myself), and I know this is not terribly unique– why are these experiences glossed over? And secondly, even if I don’t contest those points… why does being white and affluent make your rape less worthy of discussion? Again, I might be misreading this, but your post left me feeling very uncomfortable.

  2. January 23, 2009 9:23 am

    I would like to share a story I’ve been meaning to blog about.

    In college, I was dating a black man (much older than myself). He was involved in campus student politics and was well-respected and connected. We did not have an exclusive relationship (fine with me). One evening he invited me over to his apartment on campus where his friend (a campus security officer, also black) were already hanging out. My girlfriends and I had noticed this security officer before because he was very attractive. But, as the evening progressed, he was simply an ass.

    Nothing sexual happened – it was all verbal interaction. He was extremely rude to me at several points and I really disliked him. The next day, I briefly told my friend — who had a crush on him and knew I’d been hanging out with him the night before – to stay away from him, he was bad news. I was still very upset with how he had treated me (at this point, I can’t remember what any of our conversation was about). She thought something far more dire had happened and instead of talking to me again, she reported that I was raped.

    I found out about this when I was dragged out of class that afternoon by the student dean (who was black) and taken to an empty classroom where he and the security officer in question grilled me about the night before. I was dumbfounded that rape charges had been made on my behalf and I quickly cleared up the confusion – all the while feeling I had done something terribly wrong and needed to not hurt the man’s reputation. Granted, I’m not a proponent of false-rape accusations but the policy of interrogating me with my suspected rapist in the room with me is not exactly a sensitive handling of the matter. I’ve always wondered if that’s how this university always handles such cases.


    PS: I’m white. I do wonder how racial politics played into this.

    PPS: The security officer didn’t seem to hold a grudge and months later asked me out, but I had a boyfriend at the time. Still thought he was a good-looking jerk though.

  3. January 23, 2009 9:34 am

    eghead, the history of the Yes Means Yes book started with a fiery critique of the call for submissions, much of which was about the (in my view) structural problem that the feminist blogosphere has too long centered affluent white women’s experiences. I won’t speak for the editors, but in the book, they actually thank their critics. It’s not my place to say whether they succeeded in creating a space where other voices came through, but I was honoring their commitment. I’m certainly not apologizing for discussing rape on college campuses, but I thought I should note that I am not under the misimpression that it is representative of every woman’s experience, in the US or the world, or that it encompasses the entire spectrum of sexualized violence. That’s all I meant to convey.

    Amanda, their conduct was unconscienable and unjustifiable and screams cover-up.

  4. January 25, 2009 9:12 pm

    I have a few people in my life who experienced sexual harassment and rape in college settings.

    In one instance, someone close to me at Western Michigan University was pressured into silence about her sexual attack by the campus police and student conduct board. The police would not even investigate her report. They sent a ‘detective’ to talk to her about how it was all her fault and she is just misinterpreting events. She still runs into the perp around campus, and nothing was ever done about it.

    • Elle permalink
      September 11, 2009 1:30 am

      I was a victim of a sexual attack on campus and I experienced a very similar situation myself. At the time of my report there was a girl I was introduced to that had the same experience I had but 3 weeks earlier. It is sad to see that sexual assault is still not taken seriously at Western Michigan

  5. January 25, 2009 9:15 pm

    I also remember that Gonzaga in Washington State got into deep sh*t for refusing to take a student’s report of rape by another student seriously, claiming that they didn’t want to get sued for libel by the alleged attacker.

    I was working at a women’s rights law organization at the time, and the attorneys told me this sort of thing (i.e. universities hushing up rape victims) happens all the time.

  6. eghead permalink
    January 26, 2009 1:34 am

    Thanks for the clarification

  7. alycat permalink
    January 26, 2009 11:19 pm

    My best friend was raped by multiple attackers at her university. It was a small college town where most of the town was somehow associated with the university.

    The university itself seemed to engage in covering behavior — the investigation, led by campus police, was handled very poorly. Her rapists were not interrogated properly nor fully investigated. The detectives listened more to hearsay (lies about her sexual history from friends of her attackers) rather than to her account of the event or the facts of the case. She was investigated more thoroughly than they were, as if she were the criminal on trial.

    Even agencies not directly connected to the university helped with the cover up. The university hospital “lost” her bloodwork and rape kit. And after the local DA refused to take her case to court, the school’s Honor Court threw out the case within minutes.

    Two elements contributing to the suspicious behavior of these various agencies:
    – The majority of people involved with her case — detectives, lawyers, hospital employees — claimed the university as their alma mater.
    – Her attackers were high-profile athletes. A public accusal would cost the school not only its reputation but could potentially cost money.

    Obviously, the university cared more about the security of its high-profile criminal athletes than the safety and well-being of those athletes’ innocent victims. And I doubt this university is any different from most others. Our colleges are full of rapists and our universities are engaging in what I believe are criminal acts by aiding and abetting their crimes.

    After seeing her rapists regularly around campus (including in her classes!) my friend transferred schools. I guess her university preferred to lose one outstanding young woman and gain four rapists.

  8. January 27, 2009 12:26 pm

    Thank you for all your stories. None of this is truly surprising, but oh, it is so so sad. I was sort of hoping my university was a poor exception.

    What a way to treat bright young women.


  9. Aron permalink
    January 27, 2009 6:58 pm

    I would say that cover-ups do happen and that rape on campus is a problem, but the right to face your accuser is a constitutional right in this country. I would say that the best solution is that university officials not be legally able to handle any rape accusations, and that all rape accusations be handled by police (not University Police) or a third party that might be empowered to investigate but not required to divulge the victim’s name and that organization would report the offender to school administration.

  10. eghead permalink
    January 28, 2009 1:35 am

    These stories are so depressing. It makes me wonder how my college would (and has) handled charges of rape. I really don’t understand how colleges– or any institutions, for that matter– are allowed to take charge of the investigations. Will someone please explain this to me from a legal standpoint?

  11. January 28, 2009 10:40 am


    One has the right to face their accuser in court — not an empty classroom with no representation for the victim, especially when the alleged rapist has a powerful campus friend with them. Or, as these other stories have shown, a victim should not be interrogated as a suspect by campus police and other authorities while the rapist is coddled and protected.


    Perhaps because campuses are considered somewhat “private” institutions filled with a voluntary population they are allowed some different legal privileges? I don’t know, just a guess.


  12. February 8, 2009 6:08 am

    Does anybody believe that … that’s the number reported to rape crisis services?

    Actually, I think that’s believable. In the 1980s, a feminist researcher surveyed thousands of female students and found that incredibly few ever reported a rape to campus authorities. I did some back-of-the-envelope calculations, and found that on average, 1 women per college campus per year reported a rape to campus authorities.

    Reporting rates have probably gone up since then (I hope so), but it’s still true that the overwhelming majority of rapes are never reported to authorities.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: