Utah colleges release new sexual assault data — but are asking students how safe they really feel

Schools that receive federal funding must annually release data on crimes that occur on campus or at affiliated locations, such as recognized fraternities and sororities, and on public property adjacent to campus, such as sidewalks. Here are some of the numbers for sexual assaults at Utah colleges.

Two sexual assaults were reported at Brigham Young University in 2016, according to data the school recently released under a federal campus safety law.

But the actual number of assaults reported to the school — and experienced by students — is far higher, said Tiffany Turley, the university’s Title IX coordinator.

The gap shows the limits of data reported under the Clery Act, which requires schools to tally crimes that occur in specific geographic areas: on campus, on public property adjacent to campus and at other affiliated sites, such as recognized fraternities and sororities.

“The Clery report is useful because it does capture what physically happens on our campus, which a lot of people wonder about and think is important to know,” Turley said. “But here at the university, we would never pretend that that was the only number and that that fully captured all of our statistics.”

Sixty-five sexual assaults were reported in 2016 across Utah’s 10 largest universities and colleges, compared to 58 the year before.

The Clery Act took effect in 1991 to inform students of dangers on campus, including sexual assaults. It requires institutions that receive federal funding to annually release data on crimes by Oct. 1.

But more than 60 percent of college rapes happen off campus, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center — and even if students report them, those numbers are not included in annual Clery reports.

Some colleges and universities have turned to campus climate surveys to supplement their understanding of how often sexual assaults occur, according to S. Daniel Carter, president of Safety Advisors for Educational Campuses, LLC.

“The Clery data is a starting point,” he said. “Climate surveys provide much richer data about the true scope” of assaults and factors that could help shape solutions.

Turley said BYU has conducted a campus climate survey and will release its findings “very soon.”

Clery data likely doesn’t even provide a full picture of incidents on campus, because sexual violence is so underreported.

Estimates from the National Sexual Violence Resource Center say 1 in 5 women and 1 in 16 men are likely to be sexually assaulted while in college — but more than 90 percent of victims on campuses do not report the assault.

That’s why Carter said the upward trend in Utah’s Clery numbers, while incomplete, could indicate increased awareness and support on campuses.

“As a statewide trend, that’s a significant increase,” he said. “I think the increase in reporting should be viewed as a positive thing and an indication that more survivors are coming forward and getting the help they need. I’m virtually certain that is not an actual increase in the victimization rate.”

‘How survivors are feeling’

Salt Lake Community College (SLCC) and Utah Valley University (UVU) both had zero reported rapes, and a small number of other sexual assaults, on their campuses in 2016.

Dixie State University, Snow College, Weber State University and Utah State University (USU) saw increases in their number of reported rapes.

Westminster College and the University of Utah saw decreases in total rape reports compared to 2015, and Southern Utah University’s number remained the same.

Though that information is far from complete, Carter said, changes in Clery data over time can help assess the overall climate at individual campuses.

“It’s sort of a new use for Clery Act data not to gauge the full scope of the challenge but to get a better sense of how survivors are feeling more comfortable in coming forward and reporting,” he said.

Tim Vitale, a spokesman for USU, said the campus climate survey results there, coupled with Clery data, have been “essential” in helping assess the effectiveness of the school‘s sexual assault outreach and education efforts.

“The numbers are so low in Clery,” he said. “It doesn’t really show change. The campus climate survey, we had a 45 percent response rate give us, we think, much more clear data that we can both use now and use in the future to see what kinds of impacts our educational efforts are having.”

Utah State saw an increase in rape reports from four in 2015 to 14 in 2016. Five of those cases were reported in 2016 but occurred in previous years.

Amanda DeRito, the university’s sexual misconduct information and outreach coordinator, said the higher reporting rates could be a sign of change on campus.

“Seeing numbers rise is a good thing,” she said. “It means that we’re moving in the right direction. And through our campus climate survey, we’ll be able to gauge over time the percentage of people who have that experience who are reporting.”

‘The scope of the challenge’

At least six of Utah’s 10 largest colleges have conducted campus climate surveys to supplement their Clery numbers. UVU released its results Friday; about one in three women and one in seven men said they had experienced sexual misconduct since enrolling at the Orem school.

Westminster has said its survey was inconclusive because of poor participation.

The remaining schools will soon be required to survey their students, said Melanie Heath, a spokeswoman for the Utah System of Higher Education.

“The goal is for all of the public institutions to do a campus climate survey in spring 2018,” she said, adding: “This is a way, moving forward, to make sure that we’re doing them in the same time frame and then also using those same few maybe five to 10 common questions so we can collect that data statewide.”

The University of Utah’s campus climate survey showed that fewer than 5 percent of students who said they were sexually assaulted reported to a university office — the dean of students, Housing and Residential Education staff or Public Safety.

Dixie State University does not ask students to complete a climate survey. Neither does SLCC, but Joy Tlou, a spokesman for SLCC, said the college has plans to put one in place.

SLCC has no dorms, which creates unique challenges in assessing rates of sexual violence on campus based on Clery data alone.

“We don’t have students that are in off-campus, on-campus housing — they oftentimes go right back to the homes they grew up in, so we’re a different institution that way,” Tlou said.

Many students at Dixie State University, which had one reported rape in 2016, also live off campus.

“We’re sure there’s a lot more going on than gets reported,” said Ron Isaacson, the university’s interim police chief.

Surveys can help schools understand whether campus culture or other issues are creating barriers to reporting assaults, Carter said.

“Individual campuses need to conduct these assessments and understand the scope of their challenge — not just the scope of the challenge at large, but what is the specific challenge in that campus community?” he said. “It’s not just a numbers game.”