Report: Sexual Assault Most Commonly Reported Crime on College Campuses

Overall, campus crime rates are down, but the number of reported forcible sex offenses on campus has increased by 363% since 2009.
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  • A new report examines on-campus crimes from 2019 and found the trendlines continue to go down.
  • Forcible sex offenses for the second year in a row are the most commonly reported crimes on college campuses.
  • The report also showed a stark difference in crime rates at colleges with and without residence halls.

Campus crime rates continued their downward trend in 2019, according to a recent report. However, the prevelance of sexual violence on college campuses continues to be a major concern.

Newly released data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) from 2019 shows that the total number of on-campus crimes and the overall crime rate decreased for the second straight year.

The new data is in line with a larger downward trend in overall campus crimes since 2009, which shows the ratio of on-campus crimes per 10,000 full-time students decreased from 23 in 2009 to 18.7 in 2019.

However, the NCES report shows some problem areas remain: forcible sex offenses and hate crimes.

The rate for forcible sex offenses — which includes rape and fondling, per the report — has steadily risen since 2009. The rate decreased from 2018 to 2019, but for the second year in a row, they are the most commonly reported crimes on college campuses.

While the overall number of hate crimes at colleges and universities declined in 2019, the most common motivations for those crimes remained consistent.

Reported Sexual Assault Cases

Until 2018, the most commonly reported crime on college campuses was burglary. However, forcible sex offenses passed burglary that year. And the 2019 NCES data shows they’re again the most commonly reported crime, despite a 5% drop from 2018 levels.

The number of reported forcible sex offenses on campus increased by 363%, from 2,500 in 2009 to 11,800 in 2019, according to the report. Reporting guidelines for those offenses changed in 2014, the report notes, which likely contributed to the largest single-year percent increase in that year (36%, from 5,000 to 6,800). However, the number of reported forcible sex offenses on campus increased steadily between 2014 and 2018, from 6,800 to 12,400 (an 83% increase, or an average increase of about 16% per year).

The report notes that this data does not capture all crimes since many students and faculty may choose not to report them. This phenomenon is especially acute when it comes to sexual assault: A 2020 analysis by the Association of American Universities shows that officially reported sexual assaults represented only a small part of actual sexual assaults on college campuses.

Of the 11,800 forcible sex offenses reported across colleges and universities that received Title IV federal funds in 2019, 6,200 were rape and 5,600 were fondling incidents, according to the NCES report.

The report likewise found that students were much more likely to report these sex crimes if the institution they attended had a residence hall, which was the case with most crime categories. Approximately 10.7 students per every 10,000 reported a sex offense at a school with residence halls, versus just 1.3 at schools without, according to NCES analysis of the data.

Hate Crimes Down Slightly, Motivations Remain Consistent

There was also a decrease in the number of criminal incidents on college campuses classified as hate crimes in 2019, the third straight year with a decrease.

However, NCES data shows the motivations behind those crimes largely remain the same.

Race continues to be the most common motivating factor in these crimes, with 341 reported race-related crimes. Sexual orientation is the second-most common reason (164 hate crimes in 2019), followed by religion (106), ethnicity (94), gender (30), gender identity (14), and disability (5).

The total reported hate crimes decreased from 2018 for each motivation, except for crimes motivated by ethnicity.

The most common form of hate crime came through intimidation (340) in 2019, followed by vandalism (295) and simple assault (85).