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COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Many colleges underreport crimes and give students and parents a false sense of security about safety, enabled by lax oversight of such statistics, The Columbus Dispatch reported.
The newspaper, along with the Student Press Law Center, reviewed 12 years of crime statistics from nearly 1,800 schools with on-campus housing, finding that at least half of the colleges reported zero sexual assaults and two-thirds report no serious physical assaults in any year.
About one in five reported that there has never been a sexual assault, The Dispatch (http://bit.ly/1nEsq1G) reported.
A U.S. Department of Education official who oversees compliance with the reporting law said most schools comply with the law. But Jim Moore also said some underreport crimes to protect their images while others have made honest mistakes.
He and other crime experts said the statistics reported on sexual assaults seem unrealistic in some cases.
"If you have a housing unit, it would be hard to believe that over any period of time, any number of years, you could actually be so lucky as to not have any sex crimes," Moore said.
Matthew Nobles, a professor at Sam Houston State University in Texas who researches campus crime, questioned the reliability of statistics from colleges that report no crimes.
"It seems unlikely that if you have 10 years of statistics with a university that has on-campus housing and it shows zeros throughout, it's very, very unlikely that literally nothing ever happens there that could be reportable," he said.
The newspaper reported that the Education Department, though, does little to monitor or enforce compliance with the law even when crime statistics seem questionable.
The law, enacted in 1991 to alert students to dangers on campus, also allows colleges to draw boundaries to exclude off-campus housing where many students live. Colleges are required to report crimes on or near campus, but the law gives the colleges latitude in defining what near campus means.
The U.S. Education Department this year will begin requiring colleges to report statistics on dating and domestic violence and stalking. The department has told colleges that they must make a good-faith effort to comply with the changes.
Information from: The Columbus Dispatch, http://www.dispatch.com