EDITORIAL: New rule on crime statistics could create safer campuses

In April, as part of the administration’s task force to combat sexual assault, President Barack Obama released a report giving universities proper steps to deal with an issue that is all too common throughout the country. 

Now, the Obama administration is taking the fight a step further in a way that could address other serious, even life-threatening, problems many college-age people face in order to improve campus safety. 

Last week, the U.S. Department of Education announced a proposed rule to create a more inclusive understanding of sexual crimes, requiring universities to collect statistics on stalking, dating violence and domestic violence. These additions will be included in the Clery Act, which requires universities to report their crime statistics. 

Gathering data from universities on these issues will not only shed light on their association with sexual assault, but could also show how often they happen individually and how much of a problem they are.

For one, there is a connection between sexual assault and other forms of predatory action.  A survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice found that a stalker forced or attempted sexual contact in a little over 10 percent of stalking incidents.

Additionally, 13 percent of college-age women report having been forced into sex by a dating partner and 60 percent of acquaintance rapes on campuses happen in casual or steady relationships, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. 

Along with getting school-by-school data on the frequency of stalking and partner violence to understand sexual assault, these statistics could provide more information on these problems individually. This is especially necessary since they affect those within the age range of many college students at the highest rate.

According to a study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, stalking occurs most frequently among those between the ages of 18 and 24. This age range is similar for intimate partner violence, or harm caused by a partner or spouse; a report from the same source showed women between 16 and 24 are more likely to experience this form of violence than any other age group.

Since these problems occur most often between these ages, a better understanding of the prevalence of these issues at each school could ideally help universities improve safety and spread more awareness. 

Doing this across the country could help encourage victims to report these dangerous behaviors, which is especially important considering the already drastically low reporting rates. 

Like sexual assault crimes, underreporting is a problem for both dating and domestic violence. According to the Department of Justice, over 80 percent of stalking occurrences weren’t reported to either police or campus police.

Having more information on stalking, dating violence and domestic violence at universities, in addition to statistics on sexual assault, could help schools further protect students who might be vulnerable to these particular issues. It could potentially create an environment where students feel safe to seek help and recourse. 

USF students in need of support can visit the university’s Center for Victim Advocacy and Violence Prevention, which provides services for victims of violence and abuse.