Sexual assault more prevalent than reported

Sexual assault is three times more common at Yale than the University’s official crime statistics reflect, according to a new report issued by the campus sexual offense resource center.

The report from the Sexual Harassment Assault Resources & Education Center records the number of calls to the center’s response line in the 2007-’08 school year. By that count, there were 24 reported incidents of sexual assault at Yale last year.

The University Report on Campus Security, however, lists just eight alleged forcible sex offenses in 2007.

In response to allegations that Yale was underreporting sexual offenses, the U.S. Department of Education began investigating the University for its compliance with federal reporting requirements in 2004. Since then, the University has reviewed and reformed its protocols for handling reports of sexual crimes.

Yale administrators said the figures in its campus security report are lower because federal law requires universities to report only certain kinds of offenses. Plus, the administrators added, no one knows exactly how many sexual crimes take place at Yale — or, for that matter, at other universities.

“There’s a feeling that our [numbers] are too low and not reflective of what’s really happening,” said the report’s author, SHARE director Carole Goldberg.


In 1986, Jeanne Ann Clery, a 19-year-old freshman at Lehigh University, was asleep in her dorm room when she was raped and murdered.

Her parents discovered that the school had not told students about 38 violent crimes on Lehigh’s campus in the three years leading up to their daughter’s murder. Together with other campus crime victims, they pushed Congress to enact new reporting requirements with a 1990 law later named in Clery’s memory.

The Clery Act requires colleges and universities to report certain crimes on an ongoing basis and in an annual report. Included among those crimes are rape, acquaintance rape, attempted rape and unwanted fondling or touching that take place on campus or in other specified locations, such as a facility operated by a registered student organization and off-campus facilities owned by the University.

The law requires schools to disclose any such offenses that were reported to not only police but also any “campus security authority,” defined as all officials with “significant responsibilities” over student life, including “student housing, student discipline and campus judicial proceedings.” Yale’s most recent campus security report says those officials include everyone from freshmen counselors to academic department heads — from residential college deans to deans of the graduate and professional schools.

A 2004 article in the Yale Alumni Magazine, though, revealed that Yale was not asking such campus figures to report the crimes brought to their attention during the course of the year. Instead, at the time, the University was only reporting data collected by police.

That seemed to explain, at least in part, why Yale was reporting fewer sexual crimes than its Ivy League peers: just five in 2003, compared to 11 at Princeton and 32 at Harvard.

Without a system to survey officials’ reporting, the University was violating the Clery Act, said Daniel Carter, public policy director of Security on Campus, the watchdog group founded by Clery’s parents. So Carter alerted the Department of Education to the article in August 2004 and asked them to open an investigation.

The Department of Education’s assessment has not yet been finalized, but a spokeswoman for the Department said data collection, site visits, interviews and other information-gathering steps have all been completed.


While the Department of Education began investigating Yale’s compliance with the Clery Act, Peter Salovey, then dean of Yale College, requested in 2005 an internal review of Yale’s procedures for responding to sexual assault complaints.

The review was conducted by the Sexual Harassment Grievance Board, a body of two faculty members, two administrators, two undergraduates and one counselor that hears informal and formal complaints of sexual harassment; unlike the Executive Committee, the University’s highest disciplinary body, however, the board has no punitive power.

The University’s review, completed in April 2006, recommended consolidating sexual harassment resources in a new office, which became the SHARE center, and improving the tracking and reporting of sexual crimes. The latter suggestion manifested itself in the recent SHARE report, which is the first of its kind at Yale.

Until now, the campus security report was the only metric of how many sexual crimes occur at Yale each year. But the SHARE Center’s publication changes that.

Carole Goldberg, a psychologist at University Health Services who directs SHARE, said most sexual assaults on campus that are reported make their way to her, even if the assault was not reported through SHARE’s hot line. Based on her understanding, she said, her report includes the majority of known sexual crimes. The number of sexual assaults that SHARE reported, 24, is the first-ever indicator of the number of sexual crimes that occur at Yale beyond the official campus security report.

Today, Yale asks all relevant officials to report crimes of which they are aware twice per year. University Deputy Secretary Martha Highsmith, who oversees security at Yale, then sifts through the data to check for repeat reports and to ensure that only crimes matching the exact specifications of the Clery Act make it into the annual campus security report.

The Department of Education investigators helped Yale revise its method of data collection, Highsmith said.

“The Clery report follows very clear guidelines so that people can compare one campus to another,” Highsmith said. “There are very strict definitions of what gets reported and how.”

These strict definitions are what have kept Yale’s reported figures so low over the years, Highsmith added. Because crimes occurring in off-campus apartments or unregistered fraternity houses are not counted, for instance, many sexual crimes that involve a Yale student never make it into the report.

Asked whether sexual assault is more common off-campus, Highsmith said, “That’s what the numbers would suggest.”

While Highsmith said Yale reports all the sex crimes that the law requires, its official figure of eight is still lower than the numbers reported by the University’s peer institutions. Last year, Harvard reported 52 sex offenses, and Princeton 17.

Asked why, Peter Parker, a physics professor and convener of the Grievance Board, offered two explanations. One, the urban setting is different at each school. And two, other schools may count one crime multiple times if multiple officials were aware of the case.


Goldberg said reporting the new figure helps educate students by giving them a more accurate picture of the prevalence of sexual assault on campus.

But, she said, the report was held throughout the fall while Yale’s lawyers looked it over; Associate General Counsel Susan Sawyer said she did not know whether or why the report was delayed.

Parker said he is also planning his own report of grievance board cases. The release of Parker’s report has also been delayed since September for administrative reasons, but both he and Goldberg now hope to publish their findings annually.

“The concern is that by not reporting [the numbers], you’re giving the impression that is not letting people know what’s really going on,” Parker said.

In another sense, though, University officials said, it is almost impossible to know the full extent of rape on campus.

A 2001 study by the Department of Justice found that fewer than five percent of sexual crimes on college campuses are reported to police, though around two-thirds of victims mention the encounter to another person.

That usually means a conversation between friends, but Goldberg hopes the establishment of her center — and its call line, which is staffed all day, every day — will make it easier to extend those conversations so that more victims can find some semblance of closure.

The day when Yale knows of all sexual crimes will probably never come, but for now University officials say they are compliant with the Clery Act.

But even if Yale’s reported figures are no longer too low as a legal matter, they remain low as a practical matter, and too high as a moral matter.

“Crime is not zero, not yet,” Highsmith said, “but that’s what he hope for.”

Harrison Korn contributed reporting.


  • Ivy League Chastity Belts

    I live 5 minutes from Hanover. At dartmouth College, if a male employee of the school looks at a girl for more than X number of seconds, he is disciplined up to and including firing. Ivy league chastity belts for the eyes?
    Big brother is now Arthur Dimmsdale. Haven't we gone too far?

  • Hieronymus

    Without getting through the whole article--and without meaning to minimize the importance of this topic--I do rather wish that the YDN could avoid tabloidism.

    Let us look at just the progression of the first few paragraphs:

    1st: "Sexual assault" three times more prevalent than reported.

    "Assault" is a VERY broad term; in the US, assault "may refer only to the threat of violence caused by an immediate show of force," i.e., with no physical contact.

    2nd: SHARE reports 24 calls to its hotline, which it counts at "24 reported incidents of sexual assault."

    We have NO information as to the nature of the calls: our minds, of course, jump to date rape drugs et al. (at least MINE does--before logic leaps in).

    3rd: Yale reports just "eight alleged forcible sex offenses."

    I would argue that "forcible sex offenses" is a bit more specific than the broader "assault." Indeed, the numbers COULD be exactly correct, i.e., 24 calls to the hotline, 8 (alleged) forcible offenses.

    4th: Notes DoE INVESTIGATION (eek!), beginning back in 2004. Of course, YDN slyly fails to note the results, reporting only that Yale has changed its policies (leaving the reader to infer bad badness from Yale admin baddies!).

    To further illustrate the issue of alleged underreporting, we now move to the next section. Is it a case of sexual harrassment? Murky responsibility of drunken dating? NO!

    It. is:

    RAPE! MURDER! FROM 22 YEARS AGO! (eek!) And, just like Yale (despite 22 years of review and post the DoE's INVESTIGATION! and reforms) failed to report "38 violent crimes" (a narrower definition than "assault" which, as noted, need not include physical contact). BTW: Bethlehem PA in 1986 (you know, what with the collapse of steel and all) was NOT a very nice place…

    Sorry: this is where my statistical sensibilities were just overwhelmed…

    Coupla remedial tomes leap to mind:
    How to Lie with Statistics
    Between the Lines: How to Read a Newspaper
    A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper

    So… I jumped to the end section, where "assault," "rape," and "sexual crimes" are used interchangeably.

    Then, looking for the 2001 DoJ report, I came across their 2005 update, which cites a likely 3% rate of "rape or attempted rape" (again, note the broader category), and adds that "half of all student victims do not label the incident 'rape'." Hmm…

    BTW: Yale, apparently, has some factors mitigating its likely rate of sexual assault, e.g., downplaying of a sports culture (i.e., jocks), lack of a strong Greek system (i.e., frats), and a prevalence of, well…geeks (i.e., scholars). Not claiming zero incidents, just trying to place Yale appropriately among averages (you know, mean, median, mode, that sort of thing).

    So: all I am pointing out is a lack of clarity, a play towards populism (or hysteria). Even the headline grates: "Sexual Assault More Prevalent than Reported!" Yup--it's everywhere. Better break out those old "potential rapist" posters ripped from Facebook (you know, with all male frosh highlighted)…

    I rather wish the article had started with its end thought (which many might never reach), however pompous it sounds:

    "But even if Yale’s reported figures are no longer too low as a legal matter, they remain low as a practical matter, and too high as a moral matter."

    Sexual assault is a very serious concern, worthy of deliberation and debate; hysteria, however, is not helpful.

  • E

    Sort of in response to Hieronymus:

    The biggest problem when the YDN does stories like this is that the reporters don't usually seem to have any knowledge of the topic before they report on it, and thus write articles that can be incomprehensible, misleading, and suspect to those of us who DO have some knowledge of the topic. Hieronymus is right to call the reporters out on using terms (ie, assault) which they fail to define, though the usage does seem to be in accordance with CT state law definitions--which I have read but imagine the vast majority of YDN readers (and Hieronymus) have not. Defining the term, citing the source of their definition, and using the same term consistently would be helpful, especially since there continues to be debate over who is the responsible party in instances of non-stranger rape.

    Second, the article provides little information as to what the SHARE center actually does-- its only role is not to document rapes which occur. They also offer support to those who are confused about an experience they may have had, curious about how to help a friend, or who may have experienced rape many years ago. Thus, I took the number 24 to mean the number of reports specifically of rape which occurred within the time span indicated. What I am confused about is whether or not the SHARE centers numbers include instances of assault which occur on non-University owned premises.

    Another issue which the article fails to address is that the numbers in the official Yale security reports don't include reports from visitors who experienced sexual assault while visiting from another school. I would also doubt that those numbers are included in the SHARE center report either, given that those who would call the SHARE center are probably associated with Yale.

    And what is probably the most glaring absence of the article is any attempt by either the writer or any of those interviewed to justify how knowing the exact number of assaults which occur helps educate people about these crimes and how they can be prevented or avoided. What does Yale use the data for? How should students use this data? Hieronymus seems to think that someone involved with these numbers wants to spread some sort of hysteria. I tend to sit on the other side, and first concluded that Yale was trying to make its campus seem safer (which could, unintentionally, push people towards not taking the possibility of either experiencing or committing a sexual assault seriously) by filtering which reports from which sources make it into the numbers. But that's only because of opinions we had before reading the article. What have we learned from this article? A couple of numbers, but nothing really useful.

    And it seems to me, as Hieronymus pointed out, that the most important thing anyone said, which could have been a central turning point of the article, is breezed over in the last two paragraphs.

  • JasonM

    See Heather Mac Donald, "The Campus Rape Myth," for more.

    Feminist victimologists are motivated to blur as much as possible any distinction between, on the one hand, horrible violent crimes like what happened to Clery, and on the other, the self-exculpating morning-after remorse experienced by adult women who regret their irresponsible drunken exploits from the previous night.

  • Hieronymus

    Good comments. Please know: I do not dismiss the prospect of Yale's "fudging" the numbers; indeed I have first-hand experience with certain limiting factors (e.g., what constitutes "campus").

    That said: although this article is indeed more of a case of incompetent journalism, the bandying of stats (esp. by such interedted parties as the Women's Center) often skews the view of Yale into a place of dark and constant deeds--which it is not.

    Good point about the lack of practical advice ("constant vigilance!").

  • H.

    This article is way too long and covers too many topics in a very disorganized manner. Needham, Arnsdorf, you two normally write good articles. What happened?

    Also, it would be nice if it were titled something a little less eye-popping. Its very anticlimactic to grab the newspaper with the headline "Sexual assault more prevalent than reported" and come away with nothing.

  • heartsurgeon

    every mention of "sexual assault" should include the disclaimer "alleged"…unless it is proven, it is only alleged…

    the Duke Lacrosse case (and countless others) has shown us that "alleged" doesn't necessarily mean anything actually happened.

  • vox

    Is sexual assault more prevalent than reported because it's so badly reported?

  • huh

    Perhaps this was unwitting on your part, but you very much come off as if you doubt the credibility of anyone and everyone who reports a rape. Why just rape? Why are people so much quicker to doubt the "allegations" of rape victims, than the victims of, say, muggings, or assault of a non-sexual nature? I don't doubt that it is because of these sentiments that rape remains by far the most under-reported crime.

    To be fair, in the United States, we are innocent until proven guilty. So I guess, following heartsurgeon's advice, any mention of a crime that hasn't been resolved by a trial in court should always carry the qualifier "alleged."

  • Anonymous

    Feminist victimologists?

  • to #10

    That's how it's done, actually. Any time a newspaper reports on a person being put on trial, they are reported as an "alleged criminal" who is "reported to have committed X crime."

  • to #12

    What about the victims? Do they say "the self-proclaimed victim of an alleged X crime"? Because that's what heartsurgeon seems to want, at least when the crime is sexual assault.

    The point is that not believing victims is a big impediment to their safety and well-being.

  • #12

    If memory serves, they usually refer to the victim as "the accuser" and use phrases such as "claims to have been Xed."

  • False Rape Archivist

    I marvel at the blithe intellectual dishonesty of persons who automatically and with knee jerk reliability, assume that every woman who claims in a survey that she was raped but didn't report it MUST be telling the truth.

    The fact is, objectively verifiable data indicates that at least 9 percent and probably closer to half of all rape claims are false. (See, e.g., S. Taylor, K.C. Johnson, Until Proven Innocent.) That is for reported "rapes." Why on earth would that percentage not be the same, or more likely much higher, when it comes to women who claim they were raped but never reported it? In fact, the percentage is likely much higher because none of the personal turmoil associated with actual reporting plagues a woman who merely tells a surveyor she was "raped." In any event, the surveys traditionally classify matters that are not necessarily rape as "rape." Yet paid sexual assault advocates routinely cite the "proof" that rape is rampant by chanting that rape is "the most underreported of all crimes." How do we know it's underreported? We know it's underreported because no one is reporting all these rapes that must be occurring. Which proves, of course, that rape is rampant.

    Yes, rape is far too prevalent, but why must we constantly fight rape with lies? And why must we ignore men falsely accused of rape? The crime of making a false rape report has become so embroiled in the radical feminist sexual assault milieu that it has been improperly removed from the public discourse about rape. Sexual assault counselors often disingenuously refer to the fact of false rape accusations as a "myth." Denigrating the experience of the falsely accused by dismissing their victimization as a myth is not merely dishonest but morally grotesque. My Web site is among the few places on the internet that gives voice to the wrongfly accused:

  • y09

    Good comments all around. I hope someone ballsier than I writes a scathing op-ed the next time the 1-in-4 stat is bandied around.

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