Recent survey responses and campus police data suggest that up to out of 10 rapes go unreported at Northeastern University.

The second annual campus culture survey conducted by Northeastern officials asked participants directly if they had experienced sexual assault while attending the university. Twenty-one percent of the student body participated. School officials said the segment was representative of the student body.

This survey revealed that roughly 14 percent of students reported being sexually assaulted, or touched without consent, according to the survey. Six percent said that someone had attempted sexual penetration without consent, defined as attempted rape, and slightly less than four percent reported they were sexually penetrated without consent, defined as rape.

These graphs were created by The Huntington News for their coverage of the results of Northeastern’s Campus Climate Survey on sexual assault.

These numbers are not reflected by the Northeastern Police Department’s (NUPD) annual safety report, however. In its 2016-2017 logs, the department included sexual assault reports from 2013-15. Over these three years combined, the NUPD and Boston Police Department (BPD) documented 54 reports of assaults and fondling involving Northeastern students. Of these reports, 43 were reported rape cases.

As stated previously, there are issues in comparing the data. The crime report only covers crimes which happened between the years of 2013-15, whereas older students who took the survey could have potentially reported the crime as far back as 2009.

Some inconsistency between numbers could be attributed to survey biases and yearly differences between the survey and the crime reports. But the 43 officially reported rape cases involving Northeastern students over a three-year period is far less than the approximately 145 rape cases reported by survey participants, who again made up only 21 percent of Northeastern’s 19,940 students enrolled in 2015, according to the U.S. News College Ranking website reported. Thus, Northeastern faculty must ask themselves: Why aren’t victims coming forward, and how can we create the right atmosphere for students to be able to report sexual crimes against them? How can we come to better understand and document the pervasiveness of sexual assault on our campus?

A national dilemma

Northeastern’s data offers a case study in problems with incomplete data which are likely to occur at universities nationwide. In fact, lack of reporting sexual assault to authorities—and lack of support for victims in doing so—is among the central issues in what many see as an epidemic of campus sexual assault.

The American Association of University Women (AAUW), a leading organization supporting women and girls, analyzed mandated campus police reports from 11,000 universities in 2014. The data showed that 91% of college campuses reported zero rapes in 2014.

The Washington Post and Kaiser Family Foundation conducted a campus survey in 2015 which found that 1 in 5 women were sexually assaulted by force or while incapacitated, as were 1 in 20 men. Of those who had been assaulted, 59 percent said they didn’t inform authorities about the incident.

This graph was created by The Washington Post after conducting a survey on campus sexual assault.

The Washington Post reporters said that measuring sexual assault is difficult, which is why these massive divides are so commonplace among officially documented assaults and survey calculations nationwide.

“Reluctance of respondents to report sexual attacks is another challenge for measuring prevalence accurately.” Scott Clement, polling manager for the Washington Post.

Efforts for improvement

Northeastern’s survey and police crime reports on sexual assault might not exist had it not been for the tragic sexual assault and murder of Penn State Student Jeanne Clery in 1986. The Clery Act was signed in 1990 and mandated that colleges publicly report statistics through an annual report, regular documentation of campus crime and timely warning of imminent danger.

But this law and the current systems in place have failed students, as the statistics show many incidents still go unreported.

Sexual assault on college campuses has been receiving more attention because of high-profile cases, including the Brock Turner trial at Stanford University in 2016 and the UVA Rolling Stone scandal of 2014. As more reports gain attention, colleges are confronted with the reality that the Washington Post’s polls encountered: a culture of silent victims.

In response, universities, students and the federal government have taken steps to increase reporting and support for victims of sexual assault. For instance, the Northeastern Student Affairs Office’s letter prefacing the survey data stated its goal was to “assess students’ knowledge and perceptions of prohibited sexual conduct, and to better understand how students respond when incidents occur.” . Many schools conduct surveys similar to Northeastern’s in order to grasp the prevalence of violence on campus.

As Northeastern and universities across the country work to understand sexual assault on their campuses and educate students, the federal government is also making strides. In February 2015 Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) introduced the Campus Accountability and Safety Act in Congress. This bipartisan law builds on the Clery Act but with greater focus on creating a safe environment for victims and seeking penalties for universities that do not report. While the law has been tabled for now, it shows an increased focus from policy makers on making sure more is done to protect sexual assault victims and make sure their numbers are accurately reported.