Choosing a college is like building a car. The college should have each part perfectly fitted to your liking. In terms of colleges, for most women, on-campus safety is as crucial as the engine. Rankings are an easy way to assess the safety of campuses. They report how many rapes occur on a campus per year. However, these rankings are flawed and inaccurate for many different reasons.
First, the data released by the US Department of Education (USDE) catalogues the number of rapes reported at each school by its students. This data can be very misleading because students are often scared reporting incidents to staff. According to the US Bureau of Justice Statistics, it is believed that somewhere between 15.8 to 30 percent of all sexual assaults are reported to police. In an anonymous survey done by the Association of American Universities (AAU), in some instances, AAU was reporting two hundred more rapes than the USDE was. This leads me to wonder how credible the data is. Another reason for the discrepancy is that the US Department of Education data only accounts for rapes that occured on campus. Many universities around the country are integrated into cities and most people live off campus.
In addition, there is a statistic that is widely recognized as being true that contradicts the data released by the AAU and USDE. According to the AAU, one in five women are sexually assaulted in college. So it seems impossible that the USDE reported 0 rapes at NYU, a school of more than 49,000. In some cases — as crazy as it sounds — more reported rapes could actually mean a safer environment. On the other side of the spectrum, Brown University, a school of about 9,000 supposedly had 44 rapes. This discrepancy adds to the incredibility of the data. The data released by the USDE is only reported rapes. Many rapes go unreported. Students that feel comfortable going to the faculty means they think the faculty will defend them, and that is significant. However, we do not know what the faculty is doing once they are aware of a rape. All of these moving parts make the data very hard to interpret, and therefore calls it into question.
Since the USDE and AAU data is contradictory, many rapes occur off-campus, and reported rapes can mean a safer environment, the rankings should be taken with a grain of salt and not used in the process of picking a college. If you are seriously worried about your safety at a certain college, talk to a student that goes there, or visit the campus and take a tour. All in all, a woman’s safety at her college is essential to her experience, but these rankings should not be used to predict how she will feel on her campus.