Reporting is down for every campus crime except forcible sex. But does that mean rape is a growing problem or that more students now feel comfortable coming forward to report?
A new report from the Department of Justice's Bureau of Labor Statistics has found a 4 percent decrease in "criminal incidents" reported to police and campus security between 2011 and 2012. There was also a significant decrease in the number of crimes reported between 2001 and 2012, except for "forcible sex offenses," which saw a 77 percent increase in reports.
Now, a 77 percent increase sounds horrific — it might even sound like all the "one in five college women are sexually assaulted" chanters were right all along. But this doesn't necessarily mean that sexual assault has seen a 77 percent increase.
First of all, it has to do with a growing college population — the rate of such crimes per student actually rose by 40 percent. That's still a large increase, of course — the report found the rate of forcible sex offenses to be 26 per 100,000 students, or just over 1,500 incidents per year among America's roughly 6 million college students — up from 19 per 100,000 in 2001.
Obviously, even one campus sexual assault is too many, but be wary of news reports trying to use the data to make it sound like it's far more common than it is.
A second and important consideration is that this could simply mean more people are reporting sexual assaults — that doesn't necessarily mean every report is true or verifiable.
Increased reporting is good, but it has a double-edged effect on statistics. Rape and sexual assault have historically seen lower reporting than other crimes, so this report could signal a decline in the stigma associated with reporting. But the increased reporting also makes it appear as though the actual crime is on the rise, as activists and those with a stake in perpetuating the rape culture narrative like to claim.
As we've seen especially in recent years, sexual assault seems to be on the rise in part due to a broadening of the definition of what it is in some studies, as well the acceptance of any accusation — no matter how flimsy — before any actual increase in crime is considered.