Chapter 21, Section 8

Campus Crime

Abstract: Crime on college and university campuses first captured media attention in the mid-1980s and brought the issue into public view. Civil suits filed by victims and surviving family members of homicide victims against universities and administrators served as the prelude to successful advocacy for federal legislation that requires colleges to compile and publish annual campus security reports. The legislation has served to enhance safety, security, and crime victim assistance on many campuses.

Learning Objectives: Upon completion of this chapter, students will understand the following concepts:

  1. How crime victims used civil remedies to combat crime on college campuses.
  2. Federal legislation to address the problem of campus crime.
  3. Information that is available related to campus safety and security policies and crime on campus.
  4. The effect of crime victim advocacy on college campuses in America.

Statistical Overview

Number of Crimes on 796 U.S. College Campuses

1992 1993 1994


Murder 17 15 19

Forcible sex offenses 417 430 n/a

Nonforcible Sex Offenses 83 110 127

Rape 458 892 1,001

Robbery 1,311 1,340 n/a

Aggravated Assault 3,022 3,103 n/a

Burglary 21,079 20,123 n/a

Motor-vehicle theft 7,270 7,032 n/a


Liquor-law violations 14,812 14,876 14,890

Drug-law violations 3,601 4,993 6,138

Weapon violations 1,282 1,425 n/a

Note: The data represent crimes reported for 1993 and 1992 by 796 colleges with enrollments of 5,000 or more The data representing crimes reported for 1994 were reported by 831 colleges with enrollments of 5,000 or more. The figures were compiled from statistics published by the colleges in compliance with federal law (The Chronicle of Higher Education, February 3, 1995).

Crime on Campus

Few issues affecting colleges and universities captured media attention more dramatically in the last decade than violent crime. Awareness of the incidence of violent crime on college campuses burst into the public's consciousness with the reporting of several tragic cases in the 1980s. Headlines of major newspaper across the country have described violent incidents on campuses in California, Pennsylvania, Texas, Minnesota, Virginia and Florida, to name a just few. These reports:

". . . put to rest the long-cherished notion that colleges and universities are somehow cloistered enclaves -- sanctuaries far removed from the threat of crime that haunts the rest of us" (Carrington, 1991)

Victim Advocacy Through Campus Violence Civil Litigation

Campus violence civil litigation emerged in the mid-1980s as a relatively new and formidable legal strategy to address the problem of campus crime. It caught school administrators by surprise and threatened the financial resources of colleges and universities, many of which have suffered in recent years from declining enrollment and escalating costs.

Civil cases have been filed, primarily by students or their surviving family members, against universities, their administrators and trustees. In such cases, plaintiffs seek compensatory damages for financial losses and pain and suffering, and punitive damages which are awarded to punish perpetrators and deter others from engaging in similar behavior. Cases have alleged negligence and gross negligence, and in recent years, civil lawsuits have resulted in large judgments or out of court settlements. Generally, lawsuits have alleged unsafe campus conditions. Awards ranging from $50,000 to $2 million for plaintiffs who were victims of assault and rape have shaken several universities, attracted Congressional and media attention, and forced an examination of security on campuses and institutions' response after a crime occurs.

One of the more tragic cases involves the torture, rape and murder of 19-year-old Jeanne Ann Clery in her dormitory room at Lehigh University on April 5, 1986. Following the conviction and sentencing of Jeanne Clery's murderer, who was also a university student, Howard and Connie Clery filed suit against the university for its negligence in failing to take reasonable action to protect their daughter from foreseeable harm. The amount of the settlement was not made public but, in the course of settling, the university agreed to improve security throughout the campus, particularly in dormitories.

Following the settlement, the Clery's formed Security on Campus, Inc., an organization dedicated to bringing the problem of violent crime on college campuses to the attention of those who most need to know: applicants, students, faculty and staff. Their crusade has had widespread results. Since their initial success in securing passage of campus crime legislation in Pennsylvania in 1988, similar legislation has been passed in several states. The Clery's are also recognized as the driving force behind the first federal campus crime legislation.

Federal Legislation

In the early 1990s, two pieces of federal legislation were introduced and passed in a climate of new concern about the safety of students on college campuses: the Campus Security Act of 1990 and the Campus Sexual Assault Victims Bill of Rights:

The Student Right to Know and Campus Security Act of 1990

The Campus Security Act was the first federal legislation to address the issue of crime on college campuses and reflects a national commitment to increase campus safety. In brief, the Act requires that institutions publish and distribute an annual report which describes security and law enforcement policies, crime prevention activities, procedures for reporting crimes on campus, and certain campus crime statistics. The first reports covered the 1991 academic year.

The Campus Sexual Assault Victims Bill of Rights

Amid continued media focus on several cases of alleged sexual assault on college campuses and the reported response of university officials and campus judicial bodies, the Campus Sexual Assault Victims Bill of Rights was passed in 1991. This legislation requires institutions of higher education to develop and publish as part of their campus security report, policies regarding the prevention and awareness of sex offenses, and procedures for responding after a sex offense occurs. A key point in the new statute is the responsibility of university officials to inform students of their rights, and provide them with clear information about how to report sex offenses and about the assistance (medical, legal and psychological) available for victims. These provisions became effective in 1993.

The Department of Education is responsible for the enforcement of both statutes and failure to comply could mean the loss of federal funds, including student loan monies, to an institution. However, the Department of Education has not required universities to submit annual reports for review. In addition, the reporting requirements of the Campus Security Act have been amended twice and the rule making process has been slow. The most recent amendment, the Hate Crime Statistics Act (28 USC 534) requires universities to report whether certain crimes (murder, forcible rape, and aggravated assault) manifest evidence of prejudice based on race, religion, sexual orientation, or ethnicity. The final regulations governing compliance with both campus crime laws were issued on April 29, 1994.

Proposed Legislation: Open Campus Police Logs Act of 1995

At the time of this printing (summer, 1996), an amendment to the Higher Education Act of 1965 is currently pending before Congress which, if passed, will require open security crime logs at this nation's colleges and universities.

Introduced by Congressman John Duncan, Jr. (R-TN), the bill would require each institution participating in any program under this title which maintains either a police or security department of any kind to make, keep and, maintain a daily log, written in a form that can be easily understood, recording in chronological order all crimes against persons or property reported to its police or security department, the date, time and location of such crimes, and, if an arrest has been made, the names and addressed of all persons arrested and charges against such persons arrested. The proposed amendment also allows for the privacy of persons reporting the crime or witnesses to the crime, unless the release of such information is required by law.

Federal Campus Crime Reporting Requirements

Pursuant to the final regulations, the Campus Security Act and the Campus Sexual Victims Bill of Rights now require that colleges and universities include the following policy information and statistics in their annual security reports:

With regard to certain sex offenses, the institution's statement of policy must include the following information:

Reporting Campus Crime

For many institutions, gathering and publishing statistics on campus crime was not new. Approximately 325 universities had reported crime statistics to the FBI for inclusion in the annual publication of Uniform Crime Reports, prior to the Campus Security Act. The University of Washington Police Department has combined a community policing approach to law enforcement with an annual report to the university community for more than a decade.

Other institutions have been reluctant to release information about violent crimes and have been accused of attempting to "cover-up" incidents or to minimize their significance to the point of discouraging students from reporting or cooperating with local police departments. Such tactics have become an issue in several civil suits and were the impetus for enactment of the campus crime amendments to the Higher Education Act.

The recently legislated annual reports of campus crime statistics have been available for most schools since 1993. However, the changes in some reporting categories and differences in school reporting practices in the absence of final regulations, have made interpretation of the data difficult. In addition, the increased attention to the issue of crime on campus, may well influence the rate at which crimes are reported to campus law enforcement officials.

While the crime reports provide previously unavailable information, it is agreed that the published numbers provide an incomplete picture of the relative safety of any particular campus. The policies and practices regarding the handling of individual criminal incidents and the various of campus safety programs must also be considered.

Patterns of Campus Crime

An examination of the aggregate data compiled and published annually by the Chronicle of Higher Education suggests that patterns of crime on campus is similar to crime across the United States. Violent crime reports (aggravated assaults and robberies) increased and property crime (burglaries and motor vehicle thefts) decreased. The number of murders fell from 17 in 1992 to 15 in 1993.

In addition, the number of arrests for liquor, drug and weapons violations increased, suggesting increased law enforcement attention to these violations. This is particularly important because research suggests that alcohol and other drug abuse is directly related to crime perpetration and victimization.

Rape statistics were the most significantly affected by changes in reporting requirements since passage of the Campus Security Act in 1990, making year to year comparisons of reporting patterns impossible. However, other sources of data are useful in analyzing campus sex offense occurrences. According to numerous recent studies, sex offenses on college campuses have reached epidemic numbers. A Virginia Council on Higher Education survey of 5000 students found that five percent of female students were raped or sexually assaulted. However, only two percent reported the incidents to authorities and were thus reflected in campus crime statistics.

This trend has been repeated in other campus surveys. Rape is the most under reported crime, generally, and on college campuses nationwide as well. When asked why they have not reported rapes or attempted rapes, students have given several reasons. They:

Improved Treatment of Crime Victims

Although most of the initial discussion of the Campus Security Act was focused on the reporting of campus crime statistics and confusion about the requirements, the long-term effects of the Act have been far greater. Crime on college campuses and its impact on victims, the college, and the surrounding community has received much needed attention. Many campus law enforcement officials have reported resource increases that have improved security and improved or clarified relationships with local police or sheriff's departments. In addition, many universities have developed or expanded crime victim assistance programs on campus and established more formal ties with off-campus victim assistance programs.

Crime Prevention

Information is a powerful tool in crime prevention and law enforcement. If students, faculty and other employees are made aware of the extent of crime in their midst, they can take precautions which will improve the likelihood of their safety. If applicants and their families have information about crime rates, they can make informed choices about schools and housing options.

Although monitoring of compliance by the Department of Education has been minimal, many schools have utilized the annual reporting process to clarify policies that are of critical importance to a crime victim. Having readily accessible information about crime prevention, information about how to report a crime, and/or how and where to seek services can be invaluable.

Policies and practices regarding crime prevention and security are also important components of safety. Lighting, emergency phone systems, shuttle services to transport students, escort services for evening hours, locked dormitory doors, controlled access to buildings, crime watch programs, and 24-hour security are all responsible steps that schools can take to reduce the risk of victimization of innocent students and faculty.

Campus Crime and the Crime Victims'

Rights Movement

Civil liability for injuries sustained by students who are victims of crime on campus is the most recent outgrowth of the crime victims' rights movement. Attention to the treatment of victims of crime gained national prominence in the early 1980s when former President Reagan's Task Force on Victims of Crime released its report calling for improved treatment of victims by the criminal justice system and the community at large. The report identified the tendency for the public and some criminal justice professionals to "blame the victim" for his or her situation as an impediment to the fair and sensitive treatment of victims and effective prosecution of cases.

The Task Force recommended an array of legal and programmatic reforms that would bring about greater balance in the criminal justice system and provide for expanded services to help victims recover from the trauma of their victimization. Throughout the last decade, every state has passed some form of victims' rights legislation; victim assistance programs have grown dramatically in number; and victim compensation for out-of-pocket expenses as a result of a violent crime is available in every state.

The enactment of the two new pieces of legislation cited above in a two-year period, as well as the proposed amendment to the Higher Education Act of 1995, is evidence of the impact of violent crime and the strength of the victims' rights movement in the world of higher education. The threat of civil suits will provide additional impetus for many institutions to evaluate crime prevention and security efforts. Whatever the reasons that motivate institutions to improve their crime prevention, security and victim assistance programs, the beneficiaries will be the students, faculty, staff and the communities who will be spared the trauma of becoming the victim of a violent crime, and ultimately, the university itself.

Self Examination Chapter 21, Section 8

Campus Crime

1) Name one mechanism used by victims to address the problem of crime on college campus.

2) What is the purpose of federal legislation responding to crime on college campus?

3) Name a national crime victims' advocacy organization that is dedicated to remedying the problem of campus crime.

4) What kinds of information are colleges required to compile and publish, who might be interested in having this information, and why?

5) Briefly describe the components of your proposed, ideal campus crime victim assistance system.


Campus Sexual Assault Victims Bill of Rights (Public Law 102-325).

Carrington, F. (1991). Campus crime and violence: A new trend in crime victims' litigation. The Virginia Bar Association Journal, XVII, (1).

Hate Crime Statistics Act (28 USC 534).

Student Assistance General Provisions, Campus Safety; Final Rule. Department of Education, 34 CFR Part 668, Federal Register, April 29, 1994.

Student Right to Know and Campus Security Act (Public Law 101-542, Title II -- The Crime Awareness and Campus Security Act of 1990, amending the Higher Education Act of 1965).

Additional Suggested Reading

Bausell, R. B., Bausell, C. R., & Siegel, D. G. (1991). The links among alcohol, drugs and crime on American college campuses: A national follow up study. Silver Spring, MD: Business Publishers, Inc.

Burnley, J. N. (1992, October). Violent crime on campus: A new threat. Management Issues -- For Colleges and Universities.

Kirkland, C. & Siegel, D. G. Campus security -- A first look at promising practices. U.S. Department of Education. (Publication No. 065-000-00681-2). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Lederman, D. (1994, February 2). Crime on campuses. The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Lederman, D. (1995, February 3). Colleges Report Rise in Violent Crime. The Chronicle of Higher Education.

National Association of Student Personnel Administrators. (1994, August). Advisory report -- Complying with the final regulations, the student right to know and Campus Security Act. Washington, DC: Author.

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