Data discrepancies suggest campus sexual violence is widely underreported, AAUW says

Representatives from the American Association of University Women, speaking at a National Press Club Newsmaker news conference on Jan. 14, challenged data on zero rape incidents in over 90 percent of U.S. colleges during 2014.

Of 11,000 U.S. colleges filing reports as required by the Department of Education, 91 percent certified that no incidents of rape were reported for the year, according to Lisa Maatz, Vice President of Government Relations at the AAUW. Yet research by the AAUW shows that almost two-thirds of college students are sexually harassed, she said.

“We know the report of zero rapes defies reality; it defies the research. There’s more here, obviously, than simple data,” she added.

Anne Hedgepeth, Government Relations Manager at AAUW, also underscored the discrepancy. She noted “having such a low proportion of campuses with reported incidences of dating violence, domestic violence and stalking does not square with the wealth of information we have about how many individuals are actually impacted every single year.”

When campus environments are hostile because of sexual harassment and violence, students can’t learn, so schools must play an active role in the prevention of sexual assault at their institutions, Maatz said. “Some schools are clearly not in compliance with applicable laws,” she declared.

She added that while one in five women experience some form of assault during their education, many instances are perpetrated by an intimate partner. Additionally, seven percent of sexual assaults are perpetrated against men, she continued. For these reasons and others, sexual violence on campus remains underreported, Maatz said.

The Clery Act of 1990, a federal statute, mandates that educational institutions receiving federal financial aid keep and disclose pertinent crime statistics. Updated in 2013 with the Violence Against Women Act, it now requires additional reporting of crime data as well as requiring training for prevention and intervention across campuses. Parties seeking recourse can ask the Department of Education to investigate individual cases. However, the Office for Civil Rights within the department and responsible for enforcing Title IX has been understaffed for the previous three decades, explained Maatz.

Maatz responded to an AAUW member's question about the recently debunked story of gang rape on the campus of the University of Virginia, noting the most important aspect would be how the purported victim, known only as Jackie, was treated.

“People don’t want to come forward if they feel like they’re going to be eviscerated in the media or tried in the media,'' she said.