A torrent of statistical reports released in recent weeks has exposed large discrepancies in the number of sexual assaults at USC. Central to these differences is the lack of a single source documenting the number of sexual assaults reported.
There are an array of unrelated sources documenting incidents of sexual assault, including the university’s federally mandated Annual Security and Fire Safety Report compiled by the Department of Public Safety; client records collected by the Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention office at Engemann Student Health Center; and a nationwide survey of leading American universities that was released Oct. 15.
DPS’s daily crime logs, for example, indicate that 16 sex offenses were reported to the department since Aug. 31. Among the incidents documented are nine sexual batteries, four “undetermined sexual assaults,” two rapes and an assault entailing sodomy. As of Tuesday, 14 of the 16 cases were listed as open.
Included are six reports of sexual battery since Sept. 30, all of which involve the suspect approaching on a bike and subsequently groping the reporting party. The first three of these reports led DPS to email a university-wide alert on Oct. 6 detailing the incidents that occurred.
These DPS daily reports sharply contrast with the university’s most recent Annual Security Report for all of 2018, in which there were 24 reports of rape and 21 reports of fondling. There have already been 16 reports on the DPS logs in less than two months. This would amount to 35% of the total sex offenses recorded in the 2018 report. If 16 sex offenses were reported every two months, there would be nearly 100 incidents in the Annual Security Report, more than double the amount reported in 2018.
However, not all of the cases that appear in the DPS logs will necessarily be included in the official statistics of the next Annual Security Report.
“To be included in an annual security report, a crime report must allege a specific type of crime, occurring on a specific type of location, that was reported to a campus security authority,” DPS Assistant Chief David Carlisle told Annenberg Media.
Further, the Annual Security Report only includes crimes that occur at locations owned, operated or “reasonably contiguous to campus,” Carlisle explained.
According to the DPS website, there are three requirements for a report to be included in the Annual Security Report, also known as the Clery Report:
- the incident is reported to DPS, the local police (LAPD), or a campus security authority by a victim, witness, third party or even the offender
- the officer or campus security authority believes the report was made in good faith (not rumor or hearsay)
- the incident occurs within USC’s Clery-designated geography, which is much smaller than the DPS’s patrol and response area.
A reported crime is included as a sex offense in the Annual Security Report only if it falls under federal law definitions of rape, fondling, incest or statutory rape.
Under these criteria, it is not yet known whether the 16 sex offenses reported in the last 55 days will qualify for next year’s Annual Security Report, he said.
Because the current “undetermined sexual assault” cases are open, Carlisle would not comment on whether the reports to DPS qualified as rape, fondling, incest or statutory rape. According to the DPS logs, three of these “undetermined sexual assaults” occurred at a location that would qualify for inclusion in the annual crime statistics, with two assaults reported in on-campus residence halls and one report at Keck Hospital of USC. The fourth case is documented as having happened “outside USC area.”
Not all reports of sex crimes included in the Annual Security Report are made directly to DPS, Carlisle said, meaning that there are incidents never documented in the DPS daily crime logs that are only revealed when the annual report is released.
“The Annual Security Report includes reports that were made to specific university personnel, called campus security authorities, which include DPS personnel, Title IX staff, deans, athletic coaches and several others,” he said.
Notably, these campus security authorities do not include other sources, such as the Engemann Student Health Center.
Officials at Engemann Student Health Center could not provide Annenberg Media an accurate number of sexual assault survivors utilizing the facility as a whole but did provide general estimates from the center’s Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention (RSVP) office.
RSVP provided services to 740 clients from September 2018 to September 2019, said Brenda Ingram, director of the office. She added, “The vast majority are here for sexual assault.”
In fact, Ingram estimates that 90% of RSVP’s clients are sexual assault survivors.
“We just have this aggregate of all people who have seeked out services. … Some students may go to counseling services [outside RSVP] and receive services there as well,” she said.
Since the beginning of the 2019-2020 school year, RSVP has “seen about 66 clients,” Ingram said. That’s a stark contrast to the 16 sex offenses recorded in the DPS daily crime logs since Aug. 31, and already far exceeds the numbers in the 2018 Annual Security Report.
“I would say [the university’s Annual Security Report statistics] are definitely underreported,” Ingram explained. “What we know about this issue across populations is that it is significantly underreported. … I know on our campus, it’s very low compared to what we see showing up in our office.”
Though the number of students seeking sexual-assault-related services at RSVP dwarfs the number reporting sex offenses to the Department of Safety, the Association of American Universities Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct suggests that even RSVP’s estimates of sexual assault survivors may be lower than the reality.
The full report was conducted by non-USC affiliated statisticians and distributed by the university administration via email on Oct. 15. The AAU survey found that approximately one of every three female undergraduates had “experienced at least one incident of nonconsensual sexual contact since entering USC.” The survey also found that 20.5% of all USC undergraduates surveyed had experienced sexual assault.
These numbers are higher than those of most universities that participated in the AAU surveys, though Ingram attributes this to USC’s location in a “large metropolitan area as opposed to something indicative about USC.”
Referring to the number of female undergraduates who have experienced sexual assault, Ingram said, “the numbers for Los Angeles tend to be a little higher as well. Historically, [the numbers] have been like one in three, where nationally it’s about one in four. So we kind of fit based on where we are for Los Angeles.”
Despite the varying estimates of USC sexual assaults, Ingram is focused on RSVP’s mission to provide “both prevention and intervention services to USC students.” These include affirmative consent workshops, bystander training for student organization leaders and helping victims obtain rape kits, restraining orders, transport to hearings and general counseling.
“Anything that is related to having been harmed by gender-based violence,” she said, “we will provide supportive services to students.”
Even with these efforts from RSVP to support those affected by sex offenses, the complicated nature of the reporting of these instances makes it difficult to understand how prevalent the issue really is.