Many of the 11,000 federally-funded colleges and universities in the United States claim no instances of sexual assault on their campuses each year.
These schools, which are required to report sexual violence under the Clery Act, have concerned Congress, where discussions are taking place on increasing penalties for inaccurate reporting.
Karla Fonner, who currently works in Student Intervention Services and formerly the assistant director of the Women’s Center at Slippery Rock University, discussed the difficulties of attaining an accurate report.
“When I first started working here, I asked, ‘how is this possible that we have zero reports,'” Fonner said.
After a while of working at Slippery Rock, Fonner discovered that the way universities are required to report sexual assault affects what gets reported, she said.
The Clery Act, which was established in 1990 to provide college students with data concerning the safety of their environment, only requires schools to report cases that occur on school property or in an area that is directly across from the school, Fonner said.
However, it does not require schools to report what happens on private property, she explained, “so, if a student were to get assaulted at Subway, a private business directly across from campus, Slippery Rock would not be required to report it,” Fonner said.
This becomes problematic, as most Slippery Rock students live in privately-owned, off-campus apartments, which the university is not required report on, Fonner said.
“There are a lot of myths surrounding rape and sexual assault on campus,” Fonner added, “so many universities never had a clear idea of what they were supposed to be reporting.”
It is unlikely that students who are victims of sexual assault will file a formal report due to various reasons, Fonner added, and many on-campus resources, such as the health center and the counseling center, have either no obligation to report victims of assault or they report them anonymously, she continued.
Anonymous reports are only so helpful, as campus police are responsible for compiling the formal Clery Report, Fonner said.
“It is really difficult to create a law that will encompass every type of college and university we have nationally,” Fonner concluded.
Slippery Rock University reported seven instances of on-campus forced sexual offenses between 2011 and 2013, one rape in 2013, and zero reports of off-campus sexual offenses in the Annual Security and Fire Safety Report, numbers which Fonner believes are unrealistic.
Students who are victims of sexual violence are offered support and counseling from The Office of Student Intervention Services, where information on medical attention, preserving evidence, talking with police, obtaining no-contact orders, and building support systems can be found.