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Counting New Crime Statistics
Posted by On Tuesday, March 25, 2014

In the Fall of 1962, President Kennedy sent U.S. Marshals to the University of Mississippi to protect James Meredith, the first African-American student to matriculate at “Ole Miss,” as he faced a riot aimed at stopping him from entering the Oxford campus. Today, nearly a quarter of the university’s students are minorities and a statue of Meredith has been erected as a symbol of the university’s progress.

Sometime during the early morning hours of February 16, 2014, Meredith’s statue was defaced. A noose was tied around its neck and a Georgia state flag with the Confederate battle symbol was draped over its face. Three freshmen were implicated and expelled from their fraternity, while the university is proceeding with disciplinary action. In addition, the FBI is investigating the incident to determine if this was a hate crime intended to intimidate African Americans.

Racially motivated hate crimes are not confined to southern states.  At San Jose State University in California, an African-American freshman was subjected to “disturbing racial indignities” by his white roommates, including fastening a bicycle lock around his neck and displaying the Confederate flag in their dorm room. The victim has filed a $5 million claim against the university, alleging that the dormitory adviser ignored warning signs of a potentially dangerous situation, and four of the roommates have been charged with hate crimes and battery.

Both cases remind us not only that ugly prejudices still exist on today’s college campuses but also that hate crimes such as these are covered by the Clery Act’s reporting requirements. The Clery Act requires every postsecondary school that participates in federal student aid programs to prepare an Annual Security Report that is made available to enrolled and prospective students. These reports provide information about campus safety so that students and their families can make informed decisions about where to pursue higher education. The “Clery crimes” that must be reported range from murder and sexual assault to auto theft and arson.

Effective October 1, 2013, the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 amended the Clery Act reporting requirements. Prior to October 1, 2013, the Clery Act defined hate crimes as those that involved prejudice based on race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity, and disability. Starting with the Annual Security Reports due on October 1, 2014, hate crime statistics include two additional types of prejudice: national origin and gender identity.

Hate crime statistics also include these crimes which are not reported under other categories: intimidation, larceny-theft, simple assault, and crimes involving property damage and personal injury. It should be noted that the VAWA of 2013 added these new Clery crimes, which would also be reported as hate crimes if they were motivated by prejudice: sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking.

The new reporting requirements are raising questions about how to count these crimes, and the Department of Education’s Rulemaking Committee is working on regulations to explain compliance, addressing issues such as how to:

  • define the new crimes
  • count and disclose statistics for these offenses

One of the subcommittees has posted Issue Paper #1, which describes the current discussion around how to define new offenses. For example, it is unclear what definition of sexual assault should be used since the FBI’s definition of sex offenses has changed but the 2013 VAWA amendments didn’t reflect those changes.

One important question addressed by Issue Paper #2 is how to count a single reported incident that falls into multiple categories. Examples of how hypothetical incidents might be counted under different interpretations of the VAWA amendments were submitted by one of the negotiators on the Rulemaking Committee to illustrate the problem.

Counting stalking incidents has also raised questions, including: does the course of conduct count as multiple stalking incidents or one incident, and how do you determine where the crime occurred?

On May 29, 2013, the Department of Education issued a memorandum, stating that:

[F]inal regulations to implement the statutory changes to the Clery Act will not be effective until after the Department completes the rulemaking process … The Department expects that institutions will exercise their best efforts to include statistics for the new crime categories for calendar year 2013 in the Annual Security Report due in October of 2014.

The January 2014 White House Report on Rape and Sexual Assault told us that “the Department of Education is engaging in negotiated rule-making with the goal of publishing a final rule by November 2014.”

In the meantime, schools will need to make their best effort at compliance until these questions are answered. We’ll follow the rulemaking proceedings and pass along information as it becomes available, trying to shed light on what constitutes “best efforts” to report these new crime statistics.

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Why the Semantics of Rape Matter
Posted by On Thursday, October 31, 2013

In December of 2011, the FBI amended its definition of rape from “the carnal knowledge of a female, forcibly and against her will,” to “Penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.” Phrases like “carnal knowledge” and the insistence that rape victims must be female might suggest the outdated definition’s antiquity—in fact, it had stood since 1927.

How rape is defined is an issue with consequences that go beyond the merely semantic. Consider, for example, this recent post on the gulf between the prevalence of sexual assaults as reported by researchers like Mary Koss (who found that 1 in 4 women are the victims of rape or attempted rape before leaving college) and as reported by the FBI, which, in 2012, reported 26.7 forcible rapes per 100,000 inhabitants. The discrepancy can be attributed, at least in part, to how each study defined terms like “rape” and “sexual assault.”

The FBI’s new definition will apply to how it collects and reports statistics like the ones quoted above—those regarding the incidence of rape. According to Attorney General Eric Holder, “This new, more inclusive definition will provide us with a more accurate understanding of the scope and volume of these crimes.” Indeed, an emphasis on penile-vaginal penetration and the use of force limits what acts are counted as rape. With that in mind, it is particularly alarming to realize that for 84 years the FBI was using a definition of rape that didn’t include date rape or rape involving a male victim, perpetuating the myth that rape is only committed by strangers who jump out of the bushes.

The real-world consequences of how rape is defined make the history of the word itself both significant and instructive. Our English word “rape” is derived from the Latin raptus or rapere.  Its first appearance in British law refers not to any sort of sexual assault, but instead to violent theft of property. That linguistic connection is no coincidence. In the 19th century restitution for a rape resulting in pregnancy was paid not to the victim but to her father, and the rape of a woman by her husband was not recognized as a crime until the latter half of the 20th century. The conceptualization of rape as an attack on a woman, instead of the appropriation of the commodity that is her chastity, is a shift that has taken too long to come.

Today, a long-overdue shift in the way we define and conceive of rape is occurring, evidenced by the FBI’s updated definition. The FBI’s old definition bears no small resemblance to the English common law definition of rape: “carnal knowledge of a woman, forcibly and against her will.”  Matthew Lyon, writing for the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology,parses this definition into three elements: “intercourse, force, and lack of consent.” Now that women are widely viewed as people instead of property, the most important change in the way we define rape today is the shifting emphasis from the second element of that ancient definition, force, to the third, lack of consent.

That shift is obvious in the new FBI definition, which notably makes no reference to force.  It also has important legal consequences.At one time many states required rape victims to prove a certain degree of physical resistance beyond a reasonable doubt in order to secure a conviction—so as to prove that force was involved in the sexual assault.  Thanks to rape’s shifting definition, many states have loosened or, in some cases, completely removed the requirement for “rigid resistance” on the part of the victim—a positive outcome, given recent research suggesting that for many sexual assault victims, physical resistance of any kind becomes physically impossible once the assault is initiated.

Similarly, thanks to the new found emphasis on consent (or rather the lack thereof) as opposed to force, certain states have begun to define the post-penetration continuation of intercourse after consent has been withdrawn as rape. Previously, it was widely held that once a woman gave consent and penetration had occurred, there was, at least legally, no turning back. Emphasizing consent over force, however, leads logically to a different conclusion. Consent can be withdrawn at any time and once it has continued intercourse becomes rape.

The blunders of insensitive politicians have brought notoriety and national attention to the issue. In 2008, Tennessee Senator Douglas Henry declared that rape today “is not what rape was.” He elaborated, saying that, “Rape, when I was learning these things, was the violation of a chaste woman, against her will, by some party not her spouse.” In an even more infamous incident, former Rep. Todd Akin claimed last year that, “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” Such gaffes point to the suspicion with which many still view a definition of rape based on lack of consent as opposed to the use of force. That such gaffes are being made by people who hold positions of significant power points to what is at stake in this ongoing debate.

In fact, as recently as 2011, the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, which, as its name might suggest, would have banned federal subsidization of abortions, made exception specifically for cases of “forcible rape.” The distinction raised an outcry from women’s group, who pointed out that such language could exclude victims of date rape or statutory rape. “Forcible” was eventually removed from the bill, although it still failed to pass the Senate.

A common refrain of activists opposed to that particular qualification was that “rape is rape.” However, even as rape’s meaning has shifted to focus on a lack of consent, a whole host of qualifiers has sprung up, often to make the distinction between rape that involves force and rape that doesn’t.  Date, statutory, legitimate, forcible, gray, the list goes on and on. The question is whether those qualifiers clarify, or merely diminish? To which one might answer that the definition of “rape” is not merely semantic for the victims.

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One in Five Women in College Sexually Assaulted: Source of Statistic
Posted by On Friday, October 18, 2013

You’ve probably seen the statistics before: 1 in 4 women or 1 in 5 women will be the victim of attempted or completed rape by the time they graduate from college.

It’s a startling number—one that illustrates the urgency of efforts to stop sexual violence on college and university campuses.

But where does this alarming statistic come from? And is it accurate?

Changing How Sexual Violence Is Measured: The Sexual Experiences Survey

The first major study to report the one in four statistic was based on the Sexual Experiences Survey (SES), a questionnaire developed by Mary Koss and her colleagues in the 1980s to correct what they perceived as shortcomings in the way law enforcement agencies measured sexual violence.

More Information on Measuring Sexual Violence

At that time, estimates of rape relied on the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report (UCR) and the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ (BJS) National Crime Survey (now called the National Crime Victimization Survey).

The UCR, as critics pointed out, only measured rapes reported to law enforcement agencies, even though research dating back to the 1950s indicated that many if not most rapes went unreported (see Kirkpatrick, cited below).

The BJS attempted to make up for this reporting gap by administering the National Crime Survey, which asked representative households about reported and unreported crimes. But critics objected to the way that survey was administered and how its narrow definition of rape, which focused on penile-vaginal penetration, excluded other acts that legally qualified as rape. Furthermore, researchers discovered that the very wording of survey questions about sexual assault influenced how (and if) women responded.

As Koss explained in her journal article, “The Hidden Rape Victim,” researchers couldn’t simply ask women if they had been the victim of “rape” or “sexual assault” because not all victims recognized or acknowledged that they had been raped. Indeed, the confusion surrounding the definition of rape and stigma attached to its victims made some women reluctant to report or even realize that they had been raped.

Koss called these women “unacknowledged rape victims,” explaining, “[a]n unacknowledged rape victim is a woman who has experienced a sexual assault that would legally qualify as rape but who does not conceptualize herself as a rape victim” (Koss 1987, 195).

To overcome this problem, Koss and her colleagues designed survey questions which graphically described rape and other forms of sexual assault without using the word “rape.” Koss’s descriptions were based on legal definitions and included a broader range of victimization than just penile-vaginal penetration.  (It’s worth pointing out, however, that Koss’s study did not include verbal coercion in the definition of rape, as is sometimes assumed.)

Using the SES questionnaire, Koss found that 27.5% of college women reported experiencing attempted or completed rape since the age of 14 (Koss 1987) . In other words, roughly 1 in 4 women in college had experienced rape—though not necessarily while in college.

Criticism of Survey’s “Sexual Politics”

The survey stirred up considerable controversy when Koss published the results in Ms. Magazine. Critics were quick to point out that most of the women identified as rape victims in the survey nonetheless answered “no” to the question “Have you ever been raped,” the final item in the survey. Of course, the criticism ignored the fact that Koss designed the survey specifically to correct for the expectation that not all women who had been raped would identify themselves as rape victims.

Critics also argued that the way Koss phrased her questions led to over-reporting. Neil Gilbert, a professor of social welfare at Berkeley and prominent critic of the results, described the survey as “awkward and vaguely worded.”

Gilbert was especially critical of Koss’s questions about incapacitated assault. For example, one of Koss’s questions asked, “Have you had sexual intercourse when you didn’t want to because a man gave you alcohol or drugs?”  “What does having sex ‘because’ a man gives you drugs or alcohol signify,” wrote Gilbert. “[A]s the question stands it would require a mind reader to detect whether an affirmative response corresponds to a legal definition of rape” (Gilbert 357).

Koss and her colleagues have since revised (and continue to revise) the Sexual Experiences Survey in response to these criticisms, rewording some of the questions to more accurately reflect legal definitions and to be sure that an affirmative response means a crime occurred.  However, the approach remains the same: creating a survey with graphically-worded questions that avoid the labels of rape and sexual assault.

Subsequent Surveys: Validating the Original Findings

Koss’s original findings continue to be widely cited and are one source of the 1 in 4 statistic.

However, similar surveys have found comparable levels of sexual violence nationally or on college campuses: 1 in 6 U.S. women said they experienced a completed or attempted rape (National Violence Against Women 2000), 1 in 4 to 1 in 5 women experienced completed or attempted rape while at college (The Sexual Victimization of College Women 2000), and 1 in 5 U.S. women have been raped at some time in their lives (CDC 2010).

In 2007, the Campus Sexual Assault Study (CSA), funded by the National Institute of Justice, reported that 19% or 1 in 5 undergraduate women reported experiencing completed or attempted sexual assault since entering college. When the researchers focused on seniors they found that the number rose to 1 in 4 or 26.3% of college women. (The Campus Sexual Assault’s definition of sexual assault included both sexual battery [forced touching] and rape.)

The CSA is often cited as the source of the statistic one in five women will be sexually assaulted while in college. But as we have seen the statistic is older.

However, when researchers conducted the same study at four historically black colleges and universities in fall 2008, they found a lower prevalence of sexual assault. 14.2% or 1 in 7 women reported experiencing attempted or completed sexual assault since entering college. When restricted to seniors, that number rose to 16.1%, or 1 in 6 women. These results suggest that the numbers may vary depending on the type and size of institution surveyed.

Nonetheless, today the 2007 Campus Sexual Assault Study is widely cited as the source of both the 1 in 4 and the 1 in 5 statistic.

1 in 5 Today

Controversy still hounds the Sexual Experiences Survey. Skeptics continue to point to the FBI’s and BJS’s reports that show a lower incidence of rape.

In fact, in 2012 the FBI’s UCR reported 26.7 forcible rapes per 100,000 inhabitants—nowhere close to one in five.

In 2010, the BJS’s National Crime Victimization Survey (which has been revised in response to the SES) reported 2.1 completed and attempted rapes and sexual assaults per 1,000 females 12 or older. While much higher than the FBI’s numbers, it is nowhere close to one in five.

More recently, the BJS released data from its NCVS that looked at rape and sexual assault victimization among college-age women in the last two decades, comparing victimization rates between students and non-students. The study found a victimization rate of 6.1 per 1000 for student women, much lower than one in five college women.

The numbers aren’t entirely comparable. one in five is a measure of the prevalence of sexual assault: how many women have experienced sexual assault while at college. The BJS and FBI measure the incidence of sexual assault: how many occurrences there are each year.

And of course, as we’ve seen, these numbers are affected by what’s included in the definition of sexual assault, how the questions are asked, and other methodological issues.

Nonetheless, the 1 in 5 statistic provides an important context for campus safety and advocacy efforts. Even critics of this statistic acknowledge that rape is vastly under reported. The Sexual Experiences Survey and other similar studies highlight an important problem facing efforts to fight sexual assault on college campuses.

It isn’t just about statistics. It’s about educating students so they can protect themselves and each other.

Works Cited

Gilbert, Neil. (1992) “Realities and Mythologies of Rape,” Society, 4, 356-362.

Kirkpatrick, C. and Kanin, E. (1957) “Male Sex Aggression on a University Campus,” American Sociological Review, 22, 52-58.

Koss, M.P. (1985) “The Hidden Rape Victim: Personality, Attitudnal, and Situational Characteristics,” Pyschology of Women Quarterly, 9, 193-212.

Koss, M.P., Gidycz, C.A., Wisniewski, N. (1987) “The Scope of Rape: Incidence and Prevalence of Sexual Aggression and Victimization in a National Sample of Higher Education Students,” Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 55, 162-170.

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