Nearly 100 colleges and universities had at least 10 reports of rape on their main campuses in 2014, according to federal campus safety data, with Brown University and the University of Connecticut tied for the highest annual total – 43 each.
The data reflect what victim advocates say is a positive trend: Growing numbers of students who may have experienced a sexual assault are stepping forward to tell authorities about incidents that in years past might have gone unreported.
"The fact that 43 incidents were reported indicates that we are building trust among our campus community members in how the university responds to reported incidents of sexual and gender-based violence," Brown spokesman Brian E. Clark said in an email.
U-Conn. spokeswoman Stephanie Reitz said the university "works very hard to cultivate a culture of forthrightness so this traditionally under-reported crime can be addressed and our students receive appropriate services and support."
Brown, a private Ivy League university in Providence, R.I., has about 9,200 students, and U-Conn., a public flagship, has about 26,500.
The data on campus rape reports, available through a U.S. Department of Education website, provides valuable context as recent sexual assault cases have raised furors at Stanford and Baylor universities and on many other campuses nationwide.
Last week a former Stanford swimmer, Brock Turner, was sentenced to six months in jail and three years of probation for sexually assaulting a woman outside a fraternity party in 2015. The sentence, far more lenient than what prosecutors sought, provoked public outrage and drew fresh attention to an issue that in recent years has roiled campuses across the country.
At Stanford, there were 26 reports of rape in 2014. At Baylor, there were four.
Having a low number of rape reports is not necessarily a sign that all is well. Baylor's governing board last month demoted the school's president, Kenneth Starr, and fired its football coach following an investigation that found the school had failed to respond effectively to reports of sexual assault involving football players and others.
"Universities need to stop trying to treat this as a PR problem, and treat it as the civil rights and public safety issue that it is," said Lisa Maatz, vice president for government relations at the American Association of University Women. "It's happening on their campuses, undeniably. There's no use putting their heads in the sand."
This year, students and parents for the first time can obtain precise data on the volume of rape reports on each campus because of recent changes to federal disclosure rules. Previously, colleges were required to disclose under the federal Clery Act the number of reports of "forcible sex offenses," which cover a variety of crimes including rape. Now rape reports are broken out as a separate statistic.
It is important to note that the totals reflect only reports of rape, not the number of rape cases prosecuted through criminal courts or adjudicated through internal student disciplinary proceedings. Experts say that rape and other forms of sexual assault are generally under-reported.
The Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation published in June 2015 a national poll that found one in five women who attended a residential college during a four-year span said they had been sexually assaulted.
Those findings have been reinforced by surveys at several prominent research universities.
A Post analysis of the federal data found these 10 schools had the highest total of rape reports on their main campuses in 2014:
- Brown: 43;
- U-Conn.: 43;
- Dartmouth College: 42;
- Wesleyan University: 37;
- University of Virginia: 35;
- Harvard: 33;
- University of North Carolina at Charlotte: 32
- Rutgers-New Brunswick: 32;
- University of Vermont: 27; and
- Stanford: 26
Another way of looking at the data is to analyze rape report totals in the context of the size of enrollment. The Post analysis found these 10 schools had the highest total of reports of rape on their main campuses per 1,000 students:
- Reed College: 12.9 (reports per 1,000);
- Wesleyan: 11.5;
- Swarthmore College: 11.0;
- Knox College: 10.0;
- Williams College: 8.9;
- Pomona College: 8.5;
- Bowdoin College: 8.3;
- Gallaudet University: 8.1;
- Beloit College: 6.9 and
- Dartmouth: 6.7
Kevin Myers, a Reed spokesman, said data from the analysis were not a surprise. The liberal arts college in Oregon, which has about 1,400 students, has focused in recent years on ensuring that students know they can report incidents of sexual violence. "We have made the process very transparent and as friendly as it can possibly be in that situation," Myers said. "It's about helping the students who come forward get the help they need, in a way that they can control."
Asked about Brown's numbers, Clark, the university spokesman, said officials at the Ivy League school have taken many steps in recent years to address sexual violence issues and comply with the federal anti-discrimination law known as Title IX.
"We know for a fact that incidents of sexual and gender-based violence take place on campus – the results of the Association of American University campus climate survey show this and the work of our Sexual Assault Task Force and newly established Title IX office indicates the same," Clark said. "In addition to efforts to prevent incidents, Brown has taken significant action to improve our approach to the investigation and resolution of reports."
Reitz, the U-Conn. spokeswoman, said the flagship counts reports of sexual assault received in a given year "regardless of the level of detail known to us, regardless of when the assault is reported to have taken place, and even when the report comes from a third party and in the absence of a complaining victim."
She added: "This is an important part of our commitment to creating and maintaining a campus environment free from all forms of sexual harassment, sexual violence, relationship violence and stalking."
The Post analysis, covering more than 1,300 schools with at least 1,000 students, found 99 schools that had at least 10 reports of rape on their main campuses in 2014. It also found 502 schools that had zero reports of rape that year on their main campuses.