Atlanta

Georgia’s Universities Are Reporting Fewer Crimes, but More Incidents of Rape

In 2014, the University of Georgia saw a huge spike in the number of reported rape incidents on campus. Five such incidents were reported on that campus in 2011, six in 2012, and eight in 2013. Yet suddenly in 2014, that number skyrocketed to 70; far and away the highest of any Georgia college or university. The number of rape incidents reported on Georgia’s college campuses has increased over the past 10 to 15 years based on the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report (UCR), but 70 is a startling deviation from the general trend.

In preparation for the FBI’s expected release of its 2015 UCR, let’s take a look at crime over the past two decades on Georgia’s college and university campuses. [1] Like most statistics, those regarding crime are susceptible to manipulation and subject to interpretation. As such, crime rates will be different depending on who delivers the report and each organization’s methods has its flaws. The FBI’s system is no different. [2] Having acknowledged the many flaws in the FBI’s system, looking at uniform data over two decades can reveal general trends in campus crime.

Figure 1 (below) shows various crimes on Georgia’s campuses reported to the FBI. The number of crimes reported to the FBI is likely much lower than the actual number of crimes. In addition to the reasons mentioned in footnote 2, many people choose not to report minor crimes such as theft because reporting such crimes may not be worth the effort. Sexual crimes, though, are under-reported for other reasons. These crimes may not be reported due to feelings of shame, fear, apathy, or distrust of law enforcement. Additionally, as community health providers often report such crimes to police, reporting of rape-related incidences is less likely in communities that lack accessibility to health services.

Figure 1. Major Crimes

GA Campus Crime 2014

Figure 1 shows the total number of rapes, robberies, aggravated assaults, burglaries, and larcenies reported on major Georgia campuses. The reported student enrollment for 2014 is listed below the school name. Since the number of larcenies reported is much higher than the other crimes, it is charted on the secondary y-axis.

Let’s run through the definitions of each crime. Since  the rape statistics are discussed at the end of this article, we’ll save that definition for later.

Unlike the definition of rape, the definitions of the other crimes are generally less-controversial and consistent from state to state, though universities are required to keep crime statistics based on the FBI’s UCR definitions. Those definitions are as follows:

  • Robbery: the taking or attempted taking of any valuable item from the custody or care of an individual using actual force or the threat of actual force.
  • Aggravated Assault: an unlawful attack by one person upon another for the purpose of inflicting severe or aggravated bodily injury.
  • Burglary: the unlawful entry of a structure to commit a felony or theft.
  • Larceny: the unlawful taking, carrying, leading, or riding away of property from the possession or constructive possession of another.

With a 2014 student population of 32,165, Georgia State is the second largest college or university in the state; yet, it reported far fewer burglaries than all the other major campuses and fewer larcenies than all the major campuses except for Kennesaw State and Georgia Southern. However, its robbery statistics are troubling. The next few figures look at the number of reported larcenies, robberies, burglaries, and aggravated assaults for each campus between 1996 and 2014. [3]

For context, the following figure shows the change in student enrollment for each campus during select years between 1996 and 2014. Figure 3 shows the change in the number of reported larcenies at each campus from 1996 to 2014.

Figure 2. Population Change for Each Campus

GA Campuses Pop Change

Figure 3. Reported Larcenies

GA Campuses Larcenies

The number of larcenies reported at Georgia Tech peaked in 2000 at 1,038. Steadily over the past 15 years that number has fallen to just 308 in 2014. Emory, the campus with the fewest students of those charted above, reported the most larcenies at 424. Georgia State (in purple) and UGA (in dark blue) both saw significant decreases in the number of reported larcenies during this time period.

Figure 4. Reported Burglaries

GA Campuses Burglaries

As with larcenies, Georgia Tech saw a major decline in the number of reported burglaries between 1996 and 2014 going from a high of 201 in 1996 to a low of 20 in 2012. Though it increased to 52 in 2014. Most of the other schools also saw declines with the exception of UGA (in darker blue). Nineteen burglaries were reported in 1996 at UGA and that number climbed to 68 in 2014.

Figure 5. Reported Aggravated Assaults

GA Campuses Aggravated Assaults

Aggravated assaults are all over the board for each campus with the exception of Kennesaw State and Georgia Southern. Georgia Tech’s numbers increased beginning in 2002 and have consistently been between 5 and 7 reported aggravated assaults a year.

Figure 6. Reported Robberies

GA Campuses Robberies

The number of robberies reported at Georgia State has seen a dramatic increase rising from 6 in 1996 to 26 in 2011 and 2012. Only five were reported in 2014, though. Unlike larcenies and burglaries, Georgia Tech has not seen any real decrease in the number of reported robberies. Seven were reported on that campus in 1996, but 11 were reported in 2011 and 10 in 2014.

Startling Stats

The number of women reporting instances of rape has increased on all campuses over the past several years. UGA reported five rapes for the years 1996, 2000, and 2005 combined, but reported 21 rapes for the combined years of 2011, 2012, and 2013. For Emory, the combined years of 1996, 2000, and 2005 produced five reported rapes, though in the combined years of 2011,2012, and 2013, 36 rapes were reported.

Prior to a change in 2013, the FBI had used the traditional meaning of rape for 80 years: the carnal knowledge of a woman forcibly and against her will (i.e., sexual intercourse with a woman forcibly and against her will). Like other crimes, rape is defined on a state-by-state basis and each state considers different acts to be rape. Only recently have states begun to expand the definition of rape to more accurately reflect reality. In 2013, the FBI updated its definition of rape to include the penetration of a female or male without consent. This means a rape can occur under the definition regardless of the victim’s sex or whether any force was used on them. Ostensibly, this should result in more incidents of rapes being reported.

Though the FBI updated their definition, some states still report rape under the traditional definition. In the new Uniform Crime Reports from the FBI, the number of incidents of rape under the traditional or “legacy” definition is reported as well as the number of incidents of rape reported under the revised definition. Georgia appears to still only report incidents of rape under the legacy definition, as nothing is reported by any college campus under the revised definition. Figure 7 (below) shows the number of reported incidents of rape on each of the major college campuses for select years between 1996 and 2014.

Figure 7. Reported Incidents of Rape

GA Campus Reported Rapes 1996-2014

So what accounts for the increase in the number of rape victim reports? It appears Georgia is not reporting rape cases under the revised, more expansive definition, so that doesn’t explain it. Regardless, that revised definition only went into effect beginning in 2013 and the increase in reported rape victims begins around 2011. While the number of students at UGA has increased, it hasn’t increased that dramatically. The student population in 1996 was 29,469 and in 2014 it was 34,536; a difference of just over 5,000. In 1996, women accounted for just under 54 percent of the student enrollment and in 2014 women accounted for just under 58 percent of the student enrollment. In 1996, UGA reported one rape victim for every 3,978 women and in 2013 it reported one rape victim for every 3,100 women. In 2014, that number jumped to one rape victim for every 357 women.

The answer as to why we’ve seen a general uptick in rapes reported over the past several years is unclear, but why UGA reported 70 rape victim cases in 2014 is clear. Thanks to the Athens-Banner Herald we know that in 2014 UGA adopted a policy where it recorded not only those victims who reported being raped to the UGA Police Department, but also those victims who had reported to third-parties. For example, The Cottage is an Athens agency that helps victims of sexual violence and reports information to UGA. The 2014 policy included reports from The Cottage as well as reports to the UGA Police Department. After this resulted in the number of rape victim reports skyrocketing to 70, UGA reversed course and eliminated the policy. The actual number rape victims reported to the UGA Police in 2014 was 11; less than 70, but still the most reported rape victims since 1996.

It’s clear that many incidents of rape aren’t reported to the police. We know that. UGA’s 2014 policy attempted to correct this by reporting on information provided by agencies that help victims. Since many victims are less inclined to report sexual assaults to the police, but more inclined to report those assaults to agencies and organizations that provide aid, it seemed like a good policy. Unfortunately, if everyone else doesn’t also adopt this policy, it makes UGA look pretty bad comparatively. The school’s experiment in trying to report more accurate numbers revealed a truth it doesn’t want to publicly acknowledge when other schools don’t also have to publicly acknowledge that same truth.

But we need leadership on this issue. Incidents of rape likely aren’t occurring at the rate of 1 for every 3,100 women, as police data would suggest, but closer to the rate of 1 for every 357 women, as the combination of UGA police and third-party data suggests. [4] The startling revelation that far more UGA students have likely been victims of rape than what we have come to believe should encourage the adoption of more expansive reporting requirements. Campuses that have better outreach programs to encourage the reporting of sexual assault and other crimes are penalized when people only look at raw numbers. The FBI should adopt more expansive reporting requirements so all campuses more accurately convey reality.

The FBI should be releasing its final 2015 UCR next month.


[1] All data is taken from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report for the respective year.

[2] The Clery Act requires universities to compile data based on both on-campus crime and crime occurring on some surrounding property. However, it appears that universities are only required to report on-campus crime to the FBI for UCR purposes. This results in statistics reported by universities in their own publications being different than those on the FBI’s UCR. For example, Georgia State University Police reported 26 aggravated assaults in 2014, though the 2014 UCR only shows 4.

In response to our inquiry to the Georgia State University Police Department regarding the discrepancy in the number of aggravated assaults reported in the UCR versus on their own website, Kiawana Wilborn, Records Office Manager for GSUPD provided the following response via email: “The numbers that I submit on our GCIC/ UCR report references on-campus crime only. However,  the numbers reported on the GSU Police Statistical website and Safety Net reflect the aggravated assaults and other crime on: Public Property to include Private Buildings (crimes reported to APD),  Non-Campus, Residential Facilities and the On-campus incidents reported to GSUPD.”

Due to multiple layers of bureaucracy, identifying what crimes are reported via the Clery Act and what crimes are reported via the FBI’s UCR can be tedious and frustrating. Many sites, including FiveThirtyEight, Mother Jones, and many others have already written about this problem. It appears that some universities report to the FBI for UCR purposes both on-campus crime and the off-campus crime they are required to compile under the Clery Act. On top of that, universities are not required to report crime to the FBI for UCR purposes, though all the major Georgia universities do (except for Georgia State in 2013).

Including off-campus crime gives a much better portrayal of the actual crime a student may experience. However, since police departments and universities all have different reporting and outreach policies even those numbers will be inaccurate and difficult to compare (though the FBI does require uniform reporting, not all police departments abide). Some universities have better outreach programs than others, which can result in more crimes being reported on those campuses as was the case with UGA in 2014.

[3] Please note that Georgia State apparently did not report numbers to the FBI in 2013. Instead of taking the numbers from the Georgia State University Police Department website for 2013, they have been excluded for consistency.

[4] While collecting information reported directly to the university and information reported to third-parties could result in counting the same incident multiple times, over-counting crimes is likely preferable to under-counting crimes until a more accurate system of reporting can be established. Reporting 8 incidents of rape when the actual number is 40 diminishes the problem while reporting 80 incident of rape when the actual number is 40 over-emphasizes the problem. Both are clearly problematic, but if the idea is to address a problem that has historically been hidden from society the better option may be to over-report it.

 

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