Studies show sex crimes underreported at universities

Adam Higgins
Associate Editor

The Bureau of Justice Statistics released a report in December of 2014 stating that eight out of ten female college students — between the ages of 18-24 — did not report rape or sexual assault victimizations.

Of the 80 percent who did not report, around a quarter of them believed the incident was a personal matter, one in five feared reprisal, and 12 percent stated that the incident was not important enough to report. The BJS estimated that the average annual number of sexual victimizations against female college students ages 18-24 is 31,300.  

The results were based on National Crime Victimization Survey data for the period of 1995-2013. The NCVS is a self-report survey in which participants are asked about the number and characteristics of victimizations experienced during the 6 months prior to the survey.

Other studies have yielded similar findings. Dr. Tina Deshotels, associate professor of sociology at Jacksonville State University, examined reporting rates at two different public universities in the southeast.

Deshotels found that 90 percent of the victims, which included both males and females, did not tell anyone about their victimizations. She also found that 20-25 percent of college women, and 3-5 percent of college men, “had experienced some kind of sexual contact that involved physical force or coercion.” Half of these victims did not tell anyone about the incidents.

Her findings showed that one third of female students had experienced unwanted sexual contact by their senior year of college.
Deshotels’ first study, conducted in 2005, used a sample size of 1342 students. She used a sample size of 452 students for her second study in 2010. She said her findings from the 2010 study replicated her results from 2005.

Deshotels said that American society has created a “rape culture.”

“Basically, we blame the victim. Just generally, those at the top of the food chain in sexual conquests are considered heroes,” she said.

About 50 times a year, Sexual Violence Program Director Trace Fleming-Smith, or one of the other counselors from 2nd Chance, Inc. in Anniston, Ala., rush to hospital emergency rooms to provide advocacy services for a victim of a sexual assault or rape.
Victims, who wish to prosecute their offenders, must go to a hospital and complete a forensic exam immediately after the incident occurs. Fleming-Smith said she was in the ER with one victim for 16 hours, although the process usually lasts half of that amount of time.
She said she understands why many victims choose not to endure the process.
“You’re asking somebody who has just been traumatized to go to the hospital and have a rape exam, which takes a long time and the victim may ultimately have to pay for,” Fleming-Smith said.
She said college students often choose not to report because they do not want the university community to find out.

“It’s humiliating,” said Dr. Tim King, associate vice president for enrollment management and student affairs at JSU.
Deshotels said that victims often choose not to report because they are not completely “innocent” and feel that the courts will not believe them.

“They have to prove their innocence. Drinking, doing drugs or past sexual relations are used as excuses and justifications. That is the way the law further victimizes the victim,” she said.

Assistant District Attorney Jayme Amberson, who specializes in sex crimes for the Calhoun County District Attorney’s Office, said she does not believe there are any laws or statutes that disadvantage victims of rape and sexual assaults. Amberson also said that, during trials for sex crimes, the accuser has to take the stand and testify in front of the defendant in order to have a chance at yielding a conviction.

Since 2012, JSU students have reported three incidents of sexual assault and two rapes to the University Police Department, according to the UPD’s online crime log. Other universities in Alabama, similar in enrollment size to JSU, have posted similar numbers.

The University of Montevallo has documented one report of rape and three reports of fondling since 2012. Troy University has documented five forcible sex offenses since 2012.

“I do think we have an underwhelming amount of reporting happening at JSU in general, but you will see that at every college,” Fleming-Smith said.

On September 19, 2014, President Obama and Vice President Biden launched the “It’s On Us” campaign to help put an end to sexual assault on college campuses. Since then, over 200 colleges and universities nationwide have begun participating. Several universities in Alabama have also gotten involved, including Troy, all locations of the University of Alabama and Tuskegee University.

Currently, JSU is not participating in the “It’s On Us” campaign. The university is presently searching for a new Title IX coordinator. King, who currently holds the position, said future participation in the “It’s On Us” campaign “will depend on the new Title IX coordinator, who will be starting sometime hopefully in the near future.”

JSU requires all incoming freshman students to complete a course called First Year Experience (STU 101). During the course, students spend one hourlong meeting discussing sex offenses and improper sexual behavior.

“We tell how to report, where to report, and discuss sexual assault and sexual consent,” said Terry Casey, director of student life.

JSU Counseling Services also provides confidential, free, individual counseling for all students who are enrolled.

“A lot of the counselors have experience dealing with trauma,” said Julie Nix, director of Counseling and Disability Support Services.

Both Counseling Services and the Student Health Center are exempt from mandatory Title IX reporting, meaning they can promise students confidentiality concerning incidents of sexual assault and rape, unless the student displays a risk of self-harm or intent to harm another student.  
“I’m trying to find ways to combat this issue so we can help people feel more comfortable coming forward. We want it to stop obviously and we want everyone to feel safe on campus,” King said.


To report a sex crime or request counseling contact:

    • 2nd Chance, Inc.
      617 Wilmer Ave. Anniston, AL.
    • 24-hour sexual assault crisis line:
    • Dr. Tim King-102 Bibb Graves


  • JSU Student Counseling Services-140 Daugette Hall
  • RMC-JSU Student Health Clinic
  • University Police Department-Salls Hall
    Non-Emergencies: 256-782-5050
    Emergencies: 256-782-6000



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