Chapter 21 Special Topics

Section 4, Campus Crime and Victimization


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. Such federal laws, and the programs, policies, and procedures that have since developed, have served to enhance safety, security, and crime victim assistance on many campuses.

Learning Objectives

Upon completion of this section, students will understand the following concepts:

Statistical Overview

- Less than 0.5% reported a murder on campus.

- 9% reported incidents of forcible sex offenses.

- 12% reported robbery.

- 18% reported aggravated assault (Lewis and Greene 1997).

- Two-thirds of all institutions limit access to academic buildings during nights and weekends, give safety presentations to campus groups, and publish and post safety reminders on campus;

- One-third have victims' assistance programs, and 12% have night-time shuttle or van services;

- 90% of institutions with campus housing indicated that they limited access to residence halls (Ibid.).


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).

In a focus group on serving victims of campus crime sponsored by the National Criminal Justice Association in October 1998, Office for Victims of Crime Acting Director Kathryn M. Turman observed the following:

Campuses are not free from crime. Victims need to understand their rights, and need information about both the criminal justice system and student judicial system. We must mitigate the fact that students who are victims can be "re-victimized" by systems that often do not accommodate their needs (Seymour and Cropper 1999).

Federal Laws

In the 1990s, three pieces of federal legislation were introduced and passed in a climate of new concern about the safety of students on college campuses: the Higher Education Amendments of 1998, the Campus Sexual Assault Victims Bill of Rights of 1991, and the Campus Security Act of 1990.


In October 1998, H.R. 6--Higher Education Amendments of 1998--was signed into law by President Clinton. The new Public Law 105-244 includes the following provisions, as summarized by Security on Campus, Inc. (Seymour and Cropper 1999):

Campus crime statistics.

- On campus.

- Noncampus (i.e., fraternity and sorority houses, remote facilities).

- Public property.

- Residential facilities for students (i.e., residence halls, apartments, etc.).

Open campus police log.

General provisions.

Student disciplinary records.

Drug convictions.

Violence against women.

Binge drinking.


Amid continued media attention to 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 law requires institutions of higher education to develop and publish policies regarding the prevention and awareness of sex offenses and procedures for responding after a sex offense occurs as part of their campus security report. 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 the Campus Security Act and the Campus Sexual Assault Victims Bill of Rights and failure to comply could mean the loss of federal funds, including student loan monies. 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.


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.


Pursuant to the final regulations, the Campus Security Act and the Campus Sexual Assault 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:

- The accuser and the accused are entitled to the same opportunities to have others present during a campus disciplinary proceeding.

- Both the accuser and the accused shall be informed of the outcome of any campus disciplinary proceedings brought alleging a sex offense.

Victim Advocacy Through Campus Violence Civil Litigation

Campus crime 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 as well as punitive damages that 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 led to 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 nineteen-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 pursuant to its terms, the university agreed to improve security throughout the campus, particularly in dormitories.

Howard and Connie Clery went on to form 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 many states. The Clerys are also recognized as the driving force behind the first federal campus crime law.

Barriers to Reporting Campus Crime


At the 1998 focus group on serving victims of campus crime sponsored by the National Criminal Justice Association, focus group participants identified two key factors relevant to preventing and responding to campus crime and victimization.

Focus group participants offered the following parameters for such definitions:

- "Campus" should include (for legal purposes) the campus proper but should also embody the community in which the campus is located.

- "Crime" is any activity that is defined by federal, state, and local law or ordinance as "illegal" and can include violation of campus policies.

- "Victims" can include students, faculty, staff, outside contractors, and visitors.


For many institutions, gathering and publishing statistics on campus crime were not new concepts. Approximately 325 universities 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 campus safety programs must also be considered.

In Serving Victims of Campus Crime, the National Criminal Justice Association (NCJA) identified campus culture, lack of understanding about how to report crimes, fear of retaliation, and students' fears about telling their parents about being victimized as significant barriers to increased reporting:

One of the most predominate influences in student reports of crime is the campus culture itself. Student mores can have a negative influence on students' willingness to report; the "independence" that higher education students value can contribute to a feeling of "I can handle this myself," regardless of the severity of the offense. In addition, students may tell their peers about being victimized, and follow their advice as to what actions (if any) to take.

Institutions of higher education must promote environments where reporting is encouraged and easily facilitated. Herein, a significant dichotomy exists: Any increases in reports of crime can be viewed by campus officials as detrimental to a campus's reputation for safety, which is "bad for business." Greater efforts should be made to emphasize the relationship between crime reporting and crime prevention to college and university administrators, i.e., when victims report crimes and participate in justice processes, there is a greater likelihood that crimes will decrease when perpetrators are removed from the campus environment.

A lack of understanding about how to report a crime poses a significant barrier. The need for broad education in campus communities about agencies and individuals available to assist victims is clear. Information should include options for initial reporting (i.e., a trusted faculty member, resident advisor, or trained peer counselor), assistance in filing official reports with campus or community police, and a directory of available supportive services. "Making reporting cool"--through public education and outreach efforts presented in measures commensurate with students' age, cognitive and social development, and culture--would address the negative influences of both campus culture and lack of knowledge about how to report crimes. Concerns about the efficacy of authorities involved in crime control and response must also be addressed. Regardless of the type of crime, victim and/or alleged perpetrator(s), people in campus communities must be assured that their cases will be handled with dignity and respect.

Similar to many crimes, the fear of retaliation poses a barrier to reporting. When persons victimized on or near a campus have perceived or real fears about intimidation, harassment, or harm from the alleged perpetrator and/or his/her peers, the likelihood of reporting decreases.

A barrier to reporting that is somewhat unique to campuses is students' fears of telling their parents about being victimized. When parents are unaware of their children's victimization, there may be limited support for reporting crimes and seeking supportive services.

A campus- and community-wide emphasis on the importance of reporting crime and victimization should be an institutional priority for higher education. This crucial message should be reinforced at all levels of the institution and community--before, during and after the academic school year. NCJA focus group participants indicated two promising practices in this area:

Improved Treatment of Crime Victims: Critical Elements

Through the National Criminal Justice Association's project entitled "Serving Victims of Campus Crime," critical elements were identified in seven key areas that comprise a comprehensive victim services program for college and university campuses:


Coordinated crisis response services should be available through both campus- and community-based resources, including law enforcement, physical and mental health professionals, victim and social services, and student affairs/services, and should include the following:


Victim advocacy and support services should be available to address victims' emergency, short- and long-term needs, and should include the following:


Victims' rights on campus should mirror victims' rights as defined in federal, state, and local statutes within campus administrative policies that support the enforcement of victims' rights, and provision of quality victim services. They should include the following:


The establishment of ongoing communication links among public safety and victim assistance agencies both on- and off-campus (including local, state, and federal authorities, as applicable) is essential to coordinated management of victim cases, and should include the following:


Access to supportive services may be more limited to victims of crimes committed on campuses in remote-rural jurisdictions. They should include the following:


Campuses and campus communities should identify specific populations that comprise "underserved victims" and focus resources on needs assessment, improving outreach, and eliminating barriers to accessing services. Services should include the following:

- Male victims (outreach efforts to encourage reporting, provision of comfortable environments in which to seek services, and professionals and volunteers trained to take them seriously, and trained in victimization characteristics unique to men).

- Property crime victims (consistent validation that what is often perceived as a "minor" crime can be traumatic and hurtful, law enforcement response is sensitively and consistently given, and referrals to victim assistance are made, as needed).

- Victims with disabilities (supportive services that are physically accessible and peer support to access services and rights).

- Commuter students (orientation and continuing education about reporting crimes, prevention, and available victim services, regardless if the crime happens on campus or on the way to, from, or near campus).

- Victims of hate/bias crimes (staff and student education on diversity and tolerance, supportive and peer services that are sensitive to victims' needs and confidentiality concerns, and coordination of case processing that involves proper authorities in justice- and victim-related responses on the local, state, tribal, and/or federal level).

- International and culturally diverse students (education and outreach in students' native languages that are sensitive to different cultural mores, liaison activities among campus and culturally diverse student and community entities, and assistance and advocacy in reporting crimes, and campus disciplinary or justice processes).


The location of victim assistance programs in higher education varies depending upon the campus. However, consensus among NCJA focus group participants is that such programs need to be housed in a place that is at "the center of all resources, within a web of accessible health services, victim assistance, and entities that can assist with victim safety concerns." In some institutions, the Student Affairs Office might be a likely site for victim assistance programs.

The following are three key factors in determining a program's location:

Similarly, a convenient location for easy access (physically, by telephone, and by e-mail, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week) is a key characteristic. It was suggested that making the office/site available for other services, such as community policing or community service organizations, would decrease possible stigma of people seeking victim assistance services.

A common theme identified by NCJA focused on the importance and "clout" that institutions of higher education place on victim assistance and student safety. Such services need to be publicized and marketed as consequential to the very functioning of institutions. There should also be sufficient financial and human resources to adequately provide services (Seymour and Cropper 1999).


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 that 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 the Department of Education has performed minimal monitoring of university compliance, many schools have utilized the annual reporting process to clarify policies that are of critical importance to crime victims. Information about crime prevention and how to report a crime, and/or how and where to seek services, are key to crime prevention.

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 twenty-four-hour security are all responsible steps that schools can take to reduce the risk of victimization of students and faculty.

Campus Crime and the Crime Victims' Rights Discipline

Civil liability for injuries sustained by students who are victims of crime on campus is a significant recent outgrowth of the crime victims' rights discipline. The enactment of the three federal laws related to campus security and victim assistance cited above is evidence of the impact of violent crime, and the strength of the victims' rights discipline, in the world of higher education.

The threat of civil suits provides 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.

Perhaps most significant, the multiple needs of campus crime victims have resulted in unique partnerships for victim assistance and crime prevention at the local, state, and national levels. In communities large and small, urban and rural, victim assistance practitioners are joining together with law enforcement, criminal justice, and higher education professionals to develop appropriate policies and protocols for responding to campus crime and assisting victims. Nationally, the research and practitioner communities are working together to utilize empirical data for practical applications that promote safer environments on campuses of higher education. Such partnerships are critical to ensuring the safety of people who attend, work and visit college and university campuses in America.

Promising Practices

The following promising practices were identified by the National Criminal Justice Association in "Summaries of Services for Victims of Campus Crime" (NCJA 1998):

Campus Crime and Victimization Self-Examination

1. Describe one of three most significant federal laws enacted in the 1990s relevant to campus crime, victimization, and reporting.

2. Cite three barriers that prevent students from reporting crimes committed on or around college/university campuses.

3. What is the primary purpose of civil litigation that is filed by victims and/or survivors against colleges and universities?

4. Briefly describe at least five critical elements of a comprehensive victim services program for college and university campuses.

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