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Mandatory campus crime statistics flawed but revealing

Every college and university in the nation must report crimes involving students that occur on and off campus — but these annual “Clery” statistics can be misleading when it comes to reports of sexual assault and rape.

Among data on burglaries, liquor violations and manslaughter are reports of attempted rape, forcible rape and forcible groping — the three crimes that make up the forcible sex offenses category. Rape is a crime that is notoriously underreported: From 5 to 22 percent of college student rapes are reported to police, according to the Massachusetts Department of Public Safety and Security’s September report, “Analysis of College Campus Rape and Sexual Assault Reports, 2000-2011.” So, while a high number of rape reports may seem to indicate a campus is dangerous, it could also mean that an institution has a strong system that encourages reporting and supports victims.

“I think those are the campuses I would send my kids to,” said Colby Bruno, managing attorney at the Victims Rights Law Center Boston, of campuses with high reports of rape. “Those are the campuses that are not running away from the problem, that are upfront about the statistics.”

Clery reports are mandated under the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act. Jeanne Clery was a Lehigh University freshman who was murdered in her dorm room at the Pennsylvania school in 1986. The Clery Act was enacted with the belief that crime awareness can prevent campus victimization.

In 2011, the most recent year for which information is available, 15 forcible sex offenses were reported at Amherst College; seven were reported at Hampshire College; one was reported at Mount Holyoke College; three were reported at Smith College; and 13 were reported at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Critics and some advocates say because of poor reporting rates, Clery does not give people a clear picture of sexual assaults on a campus, but they also say there is value to the crime statistics and colleges should be doing everything in their power to promote reporting.

“There are components of Clery that are logistical and challenging, but there is a purpose,” said Alison Kiss, executive director of the Clery Center for Security on Campus. “The campuses that embrace the true meaning of the act end up developing a safer campus.”

And work is being done by advocates and some legislators to strengthen reporting on campuses. Advocates are pushing for passage of the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act, know as the SaVE Act, which would amend Title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965.

If approved the SaVE Act would require colleges and universities to:

• Include in their annual Clery security reports a statement of policies for reporting crimes as well as statistics regarding domestic violence, dating violence and stalking.

• Require schools to protect victims’ confidentiality when reporting criminal threats to the campus community.

• Create and include a policy statement on programs to prevent domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking that would provide sexual assault and domestic violence awareness education; outline sanctions for students found guilty of one of these crimes; and notification for victims of their options for justice and support services.

The SaVE Act is attached to the renewal of the Violence Against Women Act now being debated in Congress. The SaVE Act was removed from the House’s version of the bill, but remains in the Senate’s version.

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