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Fewer than 60 sexual assaults were reported to have occurred in 2015 at Utah's 10 largest colleges a number that experts say paints an inaccurate picture of the prevalence of sexual violence on campus.
The data which schools are federally required to compile and release by Oct. 1 each year are "good for every crime except sexual assault," said S. Daniel Carter, board secretary of SurvJustice, a nonprofit that provides legal assistance to survivors of sexual violence.
The "data vastly understate the scope of the challenge," he said. "It's just the tip of the iceberg."
The new numbers are roughly on par with 2014 data, but national estimates show it's likely that far more than the reported 58 sexual assaults occurred among the about 170,800 students enrolled at the 10 Utah schools in fall 2015. Because the vast majority of sexual assaults are unreported, it's nearly impossible to determine how many actually happen on campuses.
Under the federal Clery Act which took effect in 1991 to inform students of dangers on campus institutions that receive federal funding must publicly release data on crimes, including sexual assaults, committed at or near the campus. Schools report crimes that occur on campus; on noncampus property owned or controlled by a school or an organization officially recognized by the school, such as fraternities and sororities; and on public property, which includes parking, sidewalks and roads on or adjacent to campus.
That means crimes committed against students in off-campus housing or in nearby places where students socialize, for example, are not captured.
Elizabeth Bluhm, a victim advocate at the Dove Center in St. George, said this is why she thinks the Clery Act needs to be stronger and include all sexual assaults committed against students, regardless of where they happen.
"Any time a student is assaulted, the law should require law enforcement agencies to reach out to schools to let them know," she added.
Studies show about 66 percent of rapes committed against women occur off campus, but Carter said even more problematic in determining the scope of a college's sexual-assault problem is that most victims never report.
"Even if you expanded the [Clery] geography, it would not give you a true sense of the problem," Carter said.
While the National Sexual Violence Resource Center estimates that 1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men will be raped in their lifetime, a 2014 Department of Justice report found that 80 percent of rape and sexual-assault victimizations of female college students were not reported to police from 1995 to 2013.
Low reporting rates and the constricted area covered under Clery creates the perfect storm at Dixie State University in St. George, Bluhm said. It was the only school in Utah to report zero forcible sex offenses in 2015.
Most DSU students do not live on campus, Bluhm said, and the school reported zero "because no one is jumping out from behind the bushes to assault people [on campus]. These assaults are happening at parties off campus and out in the community."
The school's Title IX Clery Act Compliance Director, Cindy Cole, said there could be several reasons that the number is zero, including that there's little on-campus housing, and "St. George is known to be a safe community with below-average crime rates."
Salt Lake Community College, which has no residence halls, had one case of fondling in 2015. Spokesman Joy Tlou said the school is different because "almost all the space the students move in is public.
"When students are done with school, they disappear into the general population, so in the instance that something happens, it usually happens" off campus, he said.
The University of Utah reported the most forcible sex offenses in 2015, with a total of 30: 18 reported rapes and 12 cases of fondling. This is up from 19 forcible sex offenses in 2014. In both years, more than half of the assaults reported occurred on campus.
Maria O'Mara, spokeswoman for the U., said the uptick shows "a more accurate reflection of the true magnitude of what is a nationwide problem," noting that sexual assault is underreported on the U.'s campus and across the country.
"It demonstrates the progress we are making toward an environment on campus where victims of sexual assault feel empowered to report these crimes," she said.
The U. is one of three Utah colleges including Brigham Young University and Westminster College under federal investigation for their handling of sexual-assault complaints.
Under Title IX, a federal law that bars sex discrimination, higher education institutions have an obligation to swiftly respond to and resolve complaints of sexual violence whether or not they occur within Clery boundaries.
BYU reported five forcible sex offenses in 2015, down from 18 in 2014. All 23 assaults reported over the two years occurred on campus.
Westminster reported seven in 2015, and Blake Smith, director of the school's Office of Environmental Health and Safety, said all occurred on campus.
The school's report said seven were also reported in 2014, but Smith said the school is in the process of updating that number. The U.S. Department of Education's records show that there were 11 assaults reported in 2014 seven on campus, one on public property and three on noncampus school property.
Carter said campus climate surveys would help schools understand the pervasiveness of sexual assaults on campuses. "We've gotten to a point in our country that most admit campus sexual assault is a problem ... what we don't have is a full acknowledgment of what exactly the problem is," he said. "We believe [these surveys] are an essential piece to combat campus sexual violence: you can't adequately deal with a problem unless you know the full scope of the problem."
Reported sexual assaults on Utah campuses in 2015
Brigham Young University • 5
Dixie State University • 0
Salt Lake Community College • 1
Snow College • 2
Southern Utah University • 7
Utah State University • 3
Utah Valley University • 1
University of Utah • 30
Weber State University • 2
Westminster College • 7