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Penn State Reports Most Forcible Sex Offenses Among Major Universities

by and on July 01, 2014 7:00 AM
Information Penn State reported to comply with the Clery Act show that University Park saw more reported alleged sexual offenses from 2010-12 than any American university with more than 1,000 enrolled students, according to the Washington Post.

The data reveals 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 says that of the sixty-three 2012 incidents, 36 referred to reports between 1970 and 2011, some of which referenced Jerry Sandusky’s crimes. Furthermore, another 11 of the 2011 incidents came from prior years, and were attributed to victims who came forward because of increased awareness generated by 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 about 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 will experience attempted or completed rape in their college careers, so the mark of 84 is probably a vast underreporting.

According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, about 54 percent of rapes are not reported to police. The 84 reported assaults suggest 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 says. “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 says. “That’s a good thing, since we know this is a crime that is vastly under-reported.”

Penn State students have taken steps to combat sexual offenses — UPUA’s Sexual Violence Prevention Roundtable has conducted awareness campaigns to combat the problem and encourage reporting, and Men Against Violence sponsors the annual Walk A Mile In Her Shoesto name some.

“I guarantee you that the [84 reports] is not 20 percent of undergraduate women,” Houser says. “It’s still grossly underreported, but the fact that we have numbers creeping higher is news that something is right there.”

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This post was originally published by the staff at Onward State. Follow Onward State on Twitter @OnwardState.

Gilbert is the Managing Editor of Onward State.
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