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This Is How We Reported The Concealed Weapons On Campus Story

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A chart showing crime rates per 10,000 people per year, averaged over three years: 2012 to 2014. (WUFT News)
A chart showing crime rates per 10,000 people per year, averaged over three years: 2012 to 2014. (WUFT News)

The purpose of this story was to evaluate one of the arguments used to support a proposed law that would allow concealed weapons on campus: that students are at greater risk of rape and sexual assault.

Crime statistics used for this story came from two official government sources.

Colleges and universities that receive federal money are required to report crime statistics to the U.S. Department of Education through what is known as the Clery Act. The data are publicly available on the federal website. The most recent data is for 2014.

To compare reports of campus crime to the cities that surround them, standardized data reported to the Federal Bureau of Investigation Uniform Crime Report — also publicly available — were used.

As with any crime data, these figures include only crimes reported to law enforcement. Some victims choose not to report sexual assaults to police.

On average, among Florida cities, about 4 rapes are reported annually for every 10,000 people. Because that number is relatively small, one more or one less reported rape could make the problem look substantially better or worse.

To avoid potential single-year fluctuations, three years’ worth of data were collected: 2012, 2013 and 2014.

In 2013, the FBI changed how it defined rape. It switched from a single definition of “forcible rape” as “the carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will” to one focused on a lack of consent and included both genders.

A fair comparison was possible because the U.S. Department of Education changed its definition at the same time. Thus, the change in definition was consistent between cities and campuses — when it changed for the city, it changed for the campus, too. In all cases, the broader definition was used when available, for 2013 and 2014.

In addition, because the number of reported rapes is relatively small, a single reported case at a small college of, say, a few hundred students would result in a skewed comparison. Therefore, a minimum enrollment of 10,000 in Florida was used to avoid unfairly singling out small schools.

Colleges and universities with more than one campus vary in how they report data to the U.S. Department of Education. To ensure that all comparisons were consistent, each campus in the state with at least 10,000 students was contacted by telephone to collect data just for the main campus (and avoid the satellite campuses).

Once the data were verified, they were entered into a spreadsheet. Rates were calculated by dividing the reported instances of rape by the population. These rates were computed for each of the three years and then averaged.

Each main campus was compared with its surrounding city, such as the University of Florida main campus and the city of Gainesville. Then the overall average for the state for the three years was calculated.

This is the key finding of the story: that rape is twice as likely to occur in the surrounding city as on the main campus.

Nationally, reported rape and sexual assault most often involves females as victims. Gender is not reported as part of rape statistics, and so there is no way to parse out the number of female victims. Instead, the data simply compared all reported crimes to official population or enrollment data.

Whether college students are counted as part of the city population depends on how they report their permanent residences, as determined by census demographers. Because there is no reliable way to determine how many students consider a surrounding city their home, the data simply compare campus crime to campus enrollment and compare city crime to city enrollment.

The sole exception to the overall trend was found in the University of Miami and Coral Gables.

The data should not be interpreted to suggest that that the University of Miami is more prone to rape than are other campuses. Indeed, according to Tony Lake, the university’s associate dean of students, Miami has hosted resource fairs, panels and speakers, and dedicates an investigator to combat sexual violence. Further, the data shown in the chart above shows Miami’s rate is not as high as at some other campuses.

Credit should be given to Coral Gables, a city with a lower-than-average crime rate.

About Ariella Phillips

Ariella is a reporter for WUFT News and can be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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