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.