November 6, 2014 — The number of reported "forcible sex offenses" increased in 2013 at more than half of public state flagship universities listed in recent figures in a federal crime database, the Washington Post reports.
According to university officials and others with knowledge of the issue, the rise in reported incidents is the result of better documentation by schools, growing awareness and students' increased reporting of assaults, rather than a sign of growing danger.
The database defines forcible sex offenses as those involving rape, sodomy, fondling or sexual assault with an object. The federal data include all reported incidents, including those that do not result in prosecution. Schools are required to report the data annually to the Department of Education under the federal Clery Act.
According to the database, from 2012 to 2013, reported forcible sex offenses increased at 22 of the 42 public flagship universities included in the updated data. At multiple schools, the number of reports doubled or even tripled. The number of reports decreased at 16 such schools and remained flat at four schools.
Nationwide, more than 80 colleges and universities are under Department of Education investigation for how they handled sexual violence complaints. Colleges and universities have increased education about sexual assault and taken new steps to address it amid growing pressure from advocates, the White House and lawmakers, the Post reports.
For example, Anthony de Bruyn, a spokesperson for the University of Virginia, where reports rose from 11 in 2012 to 27 last year, said, "In the past year, the university has adopted several new initiatives and policies aimed at fostering a culture of reporting and providing an environment that is as safe as possible for our students and the entire university community," adding, "Therefore it is not unexpected that we would see an increase in the number of reports as members of the community become more aware and more sensitive to issues related to sexual misconduct."
Some private schools also saw an increase in reported incidences. For example, the number of reports at Swarthmore College increased to 89 in 2013, from 12 in 2012 (Anderson, Washington Post, 11/4).