Clery Act numbers lag behind reported sex crimes on campus

Print More

Darrell Hoemann/C-U Citizen Access

The Take Back the Night march heads west on Green Street in Urbana on April 6.

At least 423 sex-related crimes have been reported to the University of Illinois Police Department since 2010, according to a CU-CitizenAccess and The Daily Illini review of police daily crime logs.

So far, only 86 of those crimes have been included in the university’s annual security reports, meaning just one-in-five sex crimes have been reported to the public in a six-year period.

The reports generally lag behind by about 10 months and do not include sex-related crimes occurring off-campus.

Officials have long said that sex offenses are underreported to authorities on campus, just as they are nationwide. But it has not been apparent that University officials are unable to track the number of sex-related crimes reported to them.

The number of offenses that are reported to officials is difficult to count because there is no one particular statistic that shows the true scope, law enforcement officials say.

Instead, there is a haphazard system involving multiple university offices, police jurisdictions and unreliable reporting.

“It really makes it difficult because nothing really matches up, does it?” said Tony Brown, a deputy chief of the University of Illinois Police Department.

Over the past six months, CU-CitizenAccess and The Daily Illini sought to determine a more accurate count of sex-related crimes reported to university police through daily crime logs since 2010.

To create a more accurate database, CU-CitizenAccess and The Daily Illini analyzed the university police daily crime log, annual security reports and reports from other university offices. It also examined university and federal reporting practices and policies and conducted interviews with people who oversee compliance on campus. The first-of-its-kind database resulted in a more complete accounting of sex-related crimes that showed a stark difference between the logs and the annual reports.

Among the findings:

  • At least 423 sex-related crimes have been reported to the University of Illinois police department since 2010 by local police, campus security authorities, the Title IX office and victims.
  • The number of sex crimes reported has increased significantly in recent years. So far in 2017, 115 sex-related crimes have been reported, already surpassing the total of 89 crimes reported in 2016 and doubling the number of 54 reported in 2015.
  • In 2011 and 2012, Champaign police forwarded the most reports, but reports from campus security authorities grew from 2015 onward. In 2017, 84 percent of reports came from security authorities.
  • University police cannot identify the locations of one-fourth of the crimes because either the victim did not know the location or was unwilling to share a location.  
  • During the 2015-2016 school year, the Office of Student Conflict Resolution was informed of 114 cases of sexual misconduct. As of early April, the office has already been informed of 116 for 2016-2017.
  • All sex-related crimes are supposed to be reported to the police department immediately. Yet, only 148, or a little better than one-in-three, have been reported within a week of the alleged crime, slowing police investigations and reducing the likelihood that a Campus Safety Notice is sent out.

When the University of Illinois Police Department was asked to verify these numbers, Brown said he would not be able to.

“There’s no way that we could do that,” Brown said. “At least in no short period of time, to review if those numbers were all accurate. We don’t have that searching capability compared to the daily crime log. We’d have to look at each individual case.”

Beyond the annual security report

The Clery Act is known as the definitive guide to crime reporting on college campuses across the country.

But police say cloudy guidelines in this federal mandatory crime reporting law leave campus officials scrambling to document the crimes, whether it involves sending out a Campus Safety Notice “massmail” or ensuring the police department receives reports from campus safety authorities, the Title IX office and Urbana and Champaign police departments.

Each school is mandated to publish an annual security report, which documents the number of crimes committed on campus. For years, University of Illinois officials have pointed to this guide as the number of sex offenses reported. But this number is not indicative of all the crimes reported.

For example, in 2015, there were 54 sex offenses reported to University police; only 16 were included in the annual security report.

In 2014, there were 41 reports and only 14 in the annual security report.

The annual security report only encompasses so much. Instead of covering the entire campus community, Clery geography only includes University property, such as campus buildings, University Housing or a building of a student organization recognized by the University, such as a fraternity house.

However, these areas capture just a portion of the day-to-day lives of most students, who go to bars, live in apartments and houses and attend parties off campus.

Additionally, Clery numbers only include rape, fondling, statutory rape and incest. The CU-CitizenAccess analysis included all sex-related crimes reported, including the charges of sexual assault, abuse, offense, misconduct and harassment, according to state statutes.

The intent of Clery is fabulous, but the handbook is so big and it keeps growing,” Police Chief Jeff Christensen said at an April 7 panel about Campus Safety Notices. “Someone really needs to look into it and see what is effective and what isn’t because some things could be expanded and I don’t understand the purpose of other things.”

The Clery Act has a lesser known, but more effective, requirement to see crimes that involve students – the crime log. The log includes any crimes occurring to students, faculty and employees within patrol jurisdiction. This includes all crimes reported to the University of Illinois Police Department, including reports from other departments and campus security authorities.

The alleged crimes are posted online in a PDF file for 60 days after a crime is reported, and this information is not reported in aggregate.

To find the number, CU-CitizenAccess and The Daily Illini requested the crime logs since 2010. The logs are created in electronic spreadsheets, but the police department would only give PDF copies, which were unable to be placed into a database. They said they delete the spreadsheets, which would allow relatively easy analysis by the police, journalists or the public.

Because of the deletions, CU-CitizenAccess and The Daily Illini staff then hand-typed each report back into a spreadsheet and selected all sex-related crimes.

The total number of crimes is still likely low, Brown said. All other organizations, such as the Champaign Police Department, forward sex-related crimes to the university police. If they do not forward the report, it will not be on the log, Brown said.

University officials said it’s not uncommon to see reports from the Champaign Police Department that should have been forwarded but were not.

Rise of sexual assaults

Even though the number of sex-related crimes reported in the first four months of 2017 has surpassed totals from in any other year, police don’t think sex offenses are on the rise, said University of Illinois Police Lt. Joan Fiesta.

Brian Bauer/The Daily Illini

Lt. Joan Fiesta

“With different avenues for sexual assault reporting, we hope to see an increase,” Fiesta said. “That sounds strange to say that, but we have a lot of people who are sitting in silence without resources.”

Instead, Fiesta said reporting is encouraged more and supportive resources are promoted.

“There is a huge shift right now to report them, and we are trying to give that voice to community and campus members,” Howard said. “It was at the forefront of President Obama and people have more reporting options now, such as reporting anonymously.”

Molly McLay, assistant director of the Women’s Resources Center, said more than half of sexual assaults are never reported to law enforcement, and on college campuses the number rises to 90 percent.

According to the Association of American Universities, it is estimated that one-in-five women nationally will be sexually assaulted during their undergraduate careers — this totals to 4,090 undergraduates on the University of Illinois campus in 2016.

One-in-16 undergraduate males, or 1,526 undergraduate males in 2016, are estimated to be assaulted.

Sexual assault has drawn a lot of attention on campus in recent years, with the student-led “It’s On Us” campaign even attracting a visit from then-Vice President Joe Biden. Haven, a new online program to educate students on bystander intervention, along with other campaigns to promote anonymous reporting, has all been credited for a rise in numbers.