Read Past the Headlines on Sexual Assault Statistics

By Katie Pelletier ’03 | June 21, 2016

The recent sentencing of a Stanford University student convicted of rape reignited a conversation in the national press about the incidence of sexual assault on American college campuses. In an article last week, “These colleges have the most reports of rape,” The Washington Post compiled federal data into a sortable chart to show which schools had the highest reports. Reed College, with 12.9 per capita reports, ranked at the top of the list along with other small liberal arts schools such as Wesleyan, Swarthmore, Williams, and Pomona when sorted by reports per 1,000 students.

Experts say that Reed’s high reporting rate doesn’t mean a higher incidence of rape than on other campuses, but rather an atmosphere in which survivors feel comfortable coming forward. Many news media outlets however, seized the opportunity for alarming headlines about universities and colleges that, like Reed, occupy top positions on the chart.

Victim advocate and founder of ServJustice, Laura Dunn, told Inside Higher Ed “It is really misguided to use sexual assault reports as rankings because schools with higher rates are actually doing a better job of encouraging reporting and addressing the issue.” The Washington Post, reporting on the data, similarly found that “the data reflect what victim advocates say is a positive trend: Growing numbers of students who may have experienced a sexual assault are stepping forward to tell authorities about incidents that in years past might have gone unreported.”

According to a recent Department of Justice report, women aged 18-24 are most at risk of sexual assault, whether or not they were enrolled in college. In fact, reports to police by non-students from 1993-2014 were higher than reports by students. For many years now, Reed students, faculty, and administrators have engaged in ongoing discussion and actionto address the risk of sexual assault and relationship violence. As a KOIN News reportpointed out, Reed has been working hard on prevention and also to create a supportive environment for survivors of sexual assault to come forward, and to feel in control of what happens to them next. Local victims advocate Danielle Tudor told The Oregonian, “I trust a college more when you see their numbers are closer to what we know nationally is the truth. A college with low numbers is probably not telling the truth or victims don’t feel confident in reporting at that institution.” Rowan Frost, Assistant Dean for sexual assault prevention & response says, “One rape unreported is a survivor who isn't able to access the resources available to them.”

As Reed has strengthened the support available to survivors, the number of reports has increased. One of the most important resources is the SAPR peer advocate program, which trains and employs more than a dozen students per year to work as confidential responders with legal privilege. An anonymous reporting form is available on the Reed website for people who do not feel comfortable speaking about their experiences. Reed works with community partners such as Call to Safety to ensure that students have resources off campus as well.

The Oregonian notes that “schools that increase their emphasis on finding and reporting incidents and removing barriers that keep students from reporting them have generally seen an uptick.” Meanwhile, Inside Higher Ed says researchers warn that “using federal reporting data to assess the prevalence of campus sexual assault or to rank the relative safeness of individual colleges is ill advised and even irresponsible.”

Preventing assaults before they occur is Reed’s objective, says Vice President of Student Services, Mike Brody. Additionally, he told KOIN, “the goal is if the student is the victim of sexual assault, that they will come to us and get the help they need.”

For more, take a look at the articles and also how Reed responds to sexual assault.

Tags: Institutional