The University must take greater steps to obtain a clearer picture of sexual misconduct on campus because it is critical that we sort out what is really occurring. Currently, there are at least three published reports on this topic each year. But because of different definitions, different time periods covered, and different sources of information, comparing the data from these various reports is almost impossible.
The most recent report is the Annual Security and Public Safety report. Under the 1990 Clery Act, all universities receiving federal funding must publish an Annual Security and Public Safety report on or before October 1 detailing the number of reported crimes to non-confidential resources on campus during the past three years. This year’s Clery Act report lists seven rapes, three fondling offenses, and 18 cases of domestic violence; this is compared to eight rapes, four fondling offenses, and seven cases of domestic violence in 2014.
While the University’s most recent Clery report says seven rapes were reported on campus in 2015, the most recent discipline report shows only two students were found responsible for rape and expelled (compared to zero expulsions in 2014). Meanwhile, 27 percent of Princeton undergraduate women in the We Speak campus climate survey reported experiencing nonconsensual sexual contact.
As I’ve argued before, we must consider this data alongside other statistics published by the University because a full picture of sexual misconduct on campus is necessary to push for meaningful solutions to the problem. The We Speak survey provides self-reported data on sexual misconduct, and its numbers are much higher than what appears in the annual Clery report, which is based only on cases reported to campus Public Safety. It suggests that one in three undergraduate women have experienced inappropriate sexual behavior here. New We Speak data based on last year’s survey is expected later this month, but I assume the numbers won’t be drastically different.
Then there is the annual sexual misconduct discipline report. It outlines the findings of sexual misconduct investigations and punishments on campus: only two students found guilty and expelled.
Unfortunately, these reports contain drastically different numbers because they cover different time periods — academic versus calendar year — and use different definitions of sexual misconduct. In addition, many people do not report crimes to Public Safety for various reasons, often because they feel that going through the process is not worth the additional pain it may cause.
Because of this, getting a clear picture of what actually occurs on campus is difficult. For example, because the timeline of the Clery report and discipline report do not overlap perfectly, it is unclear from the statistics above how many rapes were reported but not investigated. In isolation, it is understandable why each uses the time period it does, seeing as Clery is defined by law but students tend to work off academic calendars. But it still makes getting a complete picture difficult. Actually aligning the time periods would provide a clear picture of discipline numbers compared to reported cases.
The discipline report data is opaque in other ways. The data shows how many cases were adjudicated under the University’s Sex Discrimination and Sexual Misconduct policy and the number of cases in which someone was found responsible, but these results are not broken down by specific offense. While I understand the need to protect respondents’ privacy, I do not see the benefit of withholding numbers for the specific crimes.
Moreover, the official Clery data does not highlight cases that are reported confidentially to SHARE, Princeton’s sexual assault advising office. The data is in the report — on page 52, after pages of definitions and before the official crime charts of the crimes. The report does explain that these cases used to be reported in the official data and why they no longer are. However, unless you know to look for this data in the 66-page report, you won’t realize it is there.
The data on these confidentially reported cases is also incomplete and unclear, as the information provided is not broken down by type of sexual offense. All the public knows is that 29 cases of sexual offenses were reported confidentially in 2015, up from 28 the year before. The number of cases of domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking — the three Violence Against Women Act offenses — actually are broken down by type. Again, I recognize why confidential reporting options are crucial, why there might be benefits in separating these numbers from the reported numbers, and the importance of privacy. But why this this specific aggregation is warranted when others are not remains unclear to me and is not explained in the documents.
While there is definitely room for improvement in how the data is presented, there have been some changes in this year’s reports that do make the reports clearer. Both Clery and the discipline report now explain why the numbers are different. As the discipline report explicitly states this year, “the University recognizes that the majority of incidents of sexual misconduct are not reported to non-confidential University resources. Thus, the data contained in this report is not intended to reflect all incidents of sexual misconduct.”
The respondents in the discipline report are also broken down by student, employee, and alumni, which is helpful for transparency. Further, the Clery report now includes a subsection that plainly details which definitions are used for the statistics, serving to further clarify the meaning behind the numbers.
As someone particularly invested in the issue of sexual misconduct on college campuses, I’ve taken the time to search for as much publicly available data as possible and go through the different reports, comparing the text and the data year after year. Even so, it is hard to get a clear and full understanding about the state of sexual misconduct on campus. Given the importance of the issue, and considering that most students cannot carefully comb through all of the available information, administrators should be as transparent as possible in publicizing the data and the details behind it.
As John Cramer, the University Director of Media Relations, noted, “Even one incident is too many.” Only when we understand the full extent of the problem can we best fight it and actually get the number to zero. If the University truly believes that even one incident is too many, it ought to focus on providing the fullest and clearest information possible about all aspects of sexual misconduct on campus.
Marni Morse is a politics major from Washington, DC. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.