Study highlights flaws in reporting of campus sexual abuse

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Most American institutions of higher education don't fully report sexual crime statistics as required by federal law, a study sponsored by the Justice Department has found.

The study, conducted by the Education Development Center Inc. and the University of Cincinnati, is the first comprehensive look at how schools comply with federal law. Colleges and universities are required to disclose campus security policies and crime statistics, including forcible and nonforcible rapes.In recent years, more colleges have instituted new education efforts and disciplinary codes designed to prevent acquaintance rape and encourage victims to come forward.

But underreporting by victims remains a significant challenge facing campus and law- enforcement authorities, the study suggests.

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"This study confirms the existence of a widespread misperception among college administrators that reporting rates of the crime accurately reflect how often the crime is attempted or committed," says Heather Karjane, the study's principal investigator. "That is simply not true."

Dr. Karjane says student victims often don't report the crime because they do not recognize that what they experienced could in fact bea crime. That is particularly true when the victim knows the perpetrator, or alcohol is involved.

The study found weaknesses throughout the process of educating students and investigating alleged assaults.

Schools lack uniform definitionsof "sexual assault" and "rape." Less than half of schools provide new students with guidelines on preventing assault or acquaintance rape. Small, nonresidential, for-profit schools are far less likely than four-year public and private schools to provide information on the process for filing written complaints alleging assaults.

No matter the campus setting, few female victims of rape (3.2 percent) or attempted rape (2.3 percent) report their victimization to the police or campus authorities, according to earlier research by one of the report's authors. Two-thirds tell friends or someone else such as a family member. Those victims who receive support from friends are more likely to report the crime to campus or local authorities.

When a report is made, only a quarter of schools conduct investigations to collect evidence and only a third provide the accused with due process procedures.Among policies and practices that can encourage victims to report assaults are provisions for confidential and anonymous reporting, on-campus victim assistance, peer education, and written law-enforcement protocols for how to respond.

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