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Chapter 22 Special Topics (Section 4 Supplement)

Campus Crime and Victimization

Statistical Overview

  • About 5.6 million fifteen- to twenty-four-year-olds nationally report having unprotected sex because they were drinking or using drugs at the time (CASA 2002). Alcohol has been implicated in 46% to 75% of the reported date rapes among this age group (CASA 1999).

  • Approximately one out of every three high school and college students have experienced sexual, physical, and verbal violence in a dating relationship (NCVC 2002).

  • The National College Women Sexual Victimization (NCWSV) Survey, sponsored by the National Institute of Justice, found that 2.9% of all women attending college or university during the first 6.9 months of the 1996-97 school year experienced a completed (1.7%) or attempted (1.2%) rape (Fisher, Cullen, and Turner 2000).

  • The victimization rate reported in the NCWSV Survey was 27.7 rapes for 1,000 female students over the 6.9 months surveyed. Because some women were victimized more than once, the rate of incidents was higher than the rate of victims (35.3 per 1,000 students). Over 22% were victims of multiple rapes (Ibid).

  • While only 2.9% or one out of thirty-six college women experienced a completed or attempted rate in the NCWSV Survey, it should be noted that the figures measure victimization for slightly more than one-half of a year. If the victimization rate is calculated for a one-year period, the data suggests that 4.9% of college women are victimized in a calendar year (Ibid).

Federal Legislation

House Resolution 3244, the Campus Sex Crimes Prevention Act, which was signed into law on October 28, 2000, improves the tracking of convicted sex offenders who are enrolled in or employed by institutions of higher learning. The Act requires that registered sex offenders notify the state and that the state then promptly notify law enforcement (including campus police) in the local jurisdiction when they are engaged as a student or an employee or practicing a vocation on a college or university campus. The Act amends the Clery Act to require institutions of higher learning to disclose to the campus community where law enforcement agency information concerning the identity of sex offenders on campus can be obtained. The Act also clarifies that the disclosure of information concerning sex offenders on campus does not violate their privacy rights and requires the Secretary of Education to take appropriate steps to notify institutions of higher learning that disclosure of this information is permitted (P.L. 106-386).

On October 10, 2001, California was the first state to enact corresponding legislation that requires convicted sex offenders to register with campus police when they enroll in or become employed on a campus of a college or university (California AB 4).


Current research on the victimization of college students confirms that rape and sexual harassment continue to be serious problems on campuses. Addressing the topic of date rape in the criminal justice system has focused considerable attention on crimes against young women, and more stringent reporting requirements have prompted academic institutions to increase prevention and response mechanisms on college campuses. Yet, the rate of victimization is alarmingly high and the emotional, psychological, and physical trauma to this population is incalculable.

Rape on college campuses. Data from the NCWSV Survey as cited above indicate that women on college campuses are at a greater risk for rape and other forms of sexual assault than women in the general population at a comparable age group. There has been some concern that national surveys that gauge incidents of rape among college women are not collecting accurate data because the target population is reluctant to refer to the most common incidents of sexual victimization—acquaintance rape and date rape—as criminal.

Like the Rape in America report of 1992 and the Stalking in America report of 1998, the NCWSV Survey used a two-stage process that started with specific screening questions that attempted to cue the respondent to recall specific details of an incident and report them to the interviewer. For example, rather than ask her if she had ever been raped or been the victim of a sexual crime, they might ask her if anyone had ever tried to force his penis into her vagina or mouth. Those who reported having been victimized in this manner were then asked to complete an incident report to clarify the type of sexual victimization and provide information about the incident. Classification of the incident was based on the incident report response to questions about the type of penetration experienced, the type of unwanted sexual conduct, and the means of coercion used by the perpetrator (Fisher, Cullen, and Turner 2000).

Other NCWSV Survey findings:

  • College women and defining their victimization as rape. For each incident report, respondents were asked if they considered the incident to be a rape. For the incidents that fell into the category of completed rape within the guidelines of the NCWSV Survey, only 46.5% of the women answered "yes" it was a rape and 48.8% answered "no" it is was not a rape, the rest being undecided.

  • Sexual victimization of college women experience based on use of force. To gain a more accurate assessment of the number of rapes in light of the large number of women who experienced rape but defined it otherwise, the survey also collected data on all types of sexual victimization, including rape, based on use of physical force or non-physical force: 15.5% of college women reported being sexually victimized: 7.7% involved physical force and 11.0% involved nonphysical force.

  • Sexual victimizations among college women occurring prior to the school year. One in ten college women said that they had experienced a rape prior to the beginning of the 1996 school year. One in ten college women said that they had experienced an attempted rape. One in twelve had had sexual intercourse in which they were subject to threats of non-physical punishment.

  • Who are the sex offenders on college campuses? Nine in ten offenders were known to the victims, most often they were a boyfriend, ex-boyfriend, classmate, or co-worker: 12.8% of the completed rapes, 35.0% of the attempted rapes, and 22.9% of the threatened rapes took place on a date.

  • Do victims try to protect themselves? When asked if they took protective action to avoid victimization, the majority of female college students reported they did take protective action, including physical force, removing the offender's hand, running away, pleading with the offender, screaming, or trying to negotiate. Nearly 70% of the victims of attempted rape used physical force against their assailants successfully.

  • Are some college women more at risk for sexual victimization? Among the women surveyed, four main factors were found to have increased the risk of sexual victimization on college campuses among the women surveyed: (1) frequently drinking enough to get drunk, (2) being unmarried, (3) having been a victim of sexual assault before the start of the school year, and (4) living on campus.

  • Reporting rates for sexual victimization on college campuses. Fewer than 5% of completed and attempted rapes were reported to law enforcement officials. Few of the victims surveyed reported to college officials. Barriers to reporting included embarrassment over the incident, not wanting people to know, lack of evidence, fear of being treated badly by the police, fear of not being believed, and fear of reprisal by the offender.

Comparison of the NCWSV Survey to the NCVS study. The NCWSV Survey included a comparison component to address how rape estimates on campuses in the federally sponsored victimization survey, the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), compared with the NCWSV Survey results. Although the methodology of the two surveys was the same, in terms of means of contact, sampling design and sampling frame, reference period, and means of measuring victimization, the wording of the screening questions and the wording of the incidence level questions were different. NCWSV researchers chose to ask graphically descriptive screen questions, such as those described on the previous page, to prompt reluctant victims to report. The means of collecting information by the two surveys provides insights into how victims respond to questions concerning their sexual victimization and under what circumstances they consider that their victimization has been a criminal act (Ibid.).

Fisher et al point out that behaviorally specific screen questions generally find higher levels of sexual victimization. Nevertheless, the estimates from the NCVS study are considerably lower than the NCWSV report.

  • The percentage of completed rapes reported in the NCVS study is eleven times smaller than the percentage of completed rapes in the NCWSV study.

  • The percentage of attempted rapes reported was six times smaller, and the percentage of threats of rape was four times smaller (Ibid.).

The NCWSV Survey also measured the extent to which women on college campuses endure verbal and visual victimization. Because this type of victimization was found to occur frequently and was considered of relatively minor importance among the target population, the research was limited to type of victimization and number of times it occurred. Researchers found that visual victimization was far less frequent than verbal.

  • Six percent of female students had been shown pornographic pictures, 5% had someone expose their sexual organs to them, and 2.4% had been observed naked without their consent.

Verbal harassment and sexually explicit comments were far more commonplace.

  • Half the respondents had been subjected to sexist remarks, catcalls, and whistles with sexual overtones. Twenty percent had received an obscene telephone call or had been asked intrusive questions about their sex life. Ten percent had had false rumors spread about their sex life (Ibid.).

Sexual harassment. Other surveys on peer sexual harassment among students confirm that it is a complex and widespread problem that harms the victims and the school environment but is widely unreported. Reports by the American Association of University Women and the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights indicate that over half of all students have been harassed, with females, youth of color, and gays most frequently targeted. Typical harassment includes taunting, sexual graffiti, and rumor mongering about a classmate's sexual identity or activity. Experts suggest that the characteristics of sexual harassment often mirror the dynamics of domestic violence in that harassment is a manifestation of power and control rather than of sex (Schwarz 2000; Gustavsson and MacEachron 1998; AAUW 1993).

Although sexual harassment is legally considered a form of sex discrimination, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 has been extended by some courts to include peer harassment, Title IX of the Education Amendment of 1972 is being used to financially compensate victims of harassment in schools, and 42 U.S.C.g1983 has been used to sue schools that fail to protect students from peer harassment. Proactive measures that involve a commitment from the whole school and the community, a systematic, multidisciplined approach, and long-term education strategies are necessary to foster respectful and nonsexist behavior in academic institutions (Schwarz 2000).

Proactive measures to discourage sexual harassment on campus include:

  • Prevention education on what constitutes harassment, how it creates climates of fear, and the difference between the menacing behavior of harassment and healthy flirting.

  • A comprehensive, explicit campus anti-harassment policy that defines harassing behavior, urges victims to report such behavior, mandates that complaints are heeded, does not tolerate retaliation from the harasser toward the victim, and sets out a procedure for unbiased investigation. Consequences to the harasser should include remediation as well as punishment.

  • Interactive training on sexual harassment and violence for all staff members.

  • Outreach to parents through special workshops to educate them about the origins of sexually harassing behavior and the importance of addressing such behavior within the family (Ibid.).

Many universities and colleges are writing anti-stalking and anti-harassment policies for students, faculty, and administrators. The George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, implemented a stalking policy in 1999 that clearly defines: stalking and the state stalking code, guidelines for victims of stalking, support services for victims of stalking, information about legal assistance, guidelines for community members who witness stalking, and mental health support for individuals who seek assistance in resisting their stalking tendencies. The Stalking Policy for George Mason University can be found at http://www.gmu.edu/facstaff/sexual/GMUPolicies3.htm.

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Chapter 22 Special Topics June 2002
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