Schools Are Still Underreporting Sexual Harassment and Assault

November 02, 2018


Students should be able to go to school free from experiencing sexual harassment or violence. That’s the promise made over 45 years ago by Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibited sex discrimination in any educational institution or program receiving federal funding.

Unfortunately, despite Title IX’s best efforts, and the additional protections afforded to students by the federal Clery Act and other state and local laws, sexual harassment and violence still interfere with the education of too many students. Even more alarming is that many schools make it difficult for students to come forward and that schools fail to properly report incidents of sexual harassment and violence when they occur. As a result, many students remain negatively impacted by unlawful sex discrimination in schools.

AAUW research has found that women on college campuses and girls in junior high and high school frequently experience sexual harassment, sexual abuse or assault, and other crimes or behavior that constitute sex discrimination under Title IX. These experiences hurt their ability to focus on their academic goals and can diminish their equal access to educational opportunities. But educational institutions frequently fail to accurately report the sexual harassment or assault that is occurring on their watch.

AAUW analyzed data from colleges and universities that participated in federal financial aid programs (virtually all institutions of higher education in the United States, including private ones) and from public and public charter P-12 institutions that receive federal financial assistance from the Department of Education. That analysis revealed that the vast majority of institutions do not disclose any reported incidents of sexual harassment or sexual assault. Such underreporting may be due to individual student fears of reporting to school authorities or law enforcement; procedural gaps in how institutions record or respond to incidents; a reluctance on the part of institutions to be associated with these problems; or a combination of these factors. But regardless of the reasons, educational institutions have a legal responsibility to accurately monitor, disclose, and diligently respond to sexual harassment and assault.


89 Percent of College Campuses Reported Zero Incidents of Rape in 2016

The Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act (Clery Act), passed in 1990, requires colleges and universities to disclose campus crime statistics and security information annually and to report this information to the Department of Education. But AAUW analysis of data reported under the Clery Act shows that the vast majority (89 percent) of 11,000 college and university campuses failed to disclose even a single reported incident of rape in 2016, despite numerous studies showing that rape is common on campuses.

In addition, AAUW analysis found low rates overall of reports of sexual assault, including rape and fondling, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking. Altogether, nearly four in five (77 percent) of campuses reported zero incidents of sexual assault, including rape and fondling, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking — a shocking statistic given how frequently these incidents occur on campuses.

Underreporting occurs across different institution types. Even when considering only institutions’ primary campuses and the institutions with at least 250 students — excluding the smallest institutions, as well as the secondary campus locations of multi-campus institutions, such as international facilities or off-site research labs — many campuses still fail to disclose reported incidents across these categories. Half of these campuses (49 percent) fail to disclose reported incidents in any of the five categories.

Percent of Campuses Reporting  Zero Offenses in 2016
All Campuses Primary Campuses with Enrollment of 250+
Rape 89% <71%
Fondling 90% 76%
Domestic Violence 91% 79%
Dating Violence 89% 73%
Stalking 86% 67%
Any of the Previous 5 77% 49%


79 Percent of Schools with Grades 7-12 Reported Zero Allegations of Sexual Harassment in 2015-16

AAUW also analyzed 2015-16 data from the Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC) from 96,000 public and public charter P-12 educational institutions — including magnet schools, special education schools, alternative schools, and juvenile justice facilities. More than three-fourths (79 percent) of the 48,000 public schools with students in grades 7 through 12 disclosed zero reported allegations of harassment or bullying on the basis of sex. These numbers do not square with what research shows students experience. Far more students experience sexual harassment than schools report in the CRDC. This is a cause for concern.

Percent of Schools Reporting Zero Occurrences in 2015-16
Schools Enrolling Students in Grades 7 through 12 All Schools
Allegations of Sexual Harassment of Students 79% 85%
Incidents of Rape or Attempted Rape at School 99% 100%
Incidents of Sexual Assault (Other Than Rape) at School 94% 96%

AAUW’s analysis looked specifically at public schools with students in grades 7–12 to compare data with AAUW’s groundbreaking 2011 research report Crossing the Line: Sexual Harassment at School, which analyzed data from a survey of students in the same age group. Crossing the Line found that nearly half (48 percent) of students surveyed had experienced some form of sexual harassment in the past school year, with nearly 9 in 10 (87 percent) of those students saying that the harassment had a negative impact on them. Since then, other research has shown the continued prevalence of these kinds of incidents affecting girls in junior high and high schools.

The CRDC data also included information about school reporting of incidents of rape or attempted rape that occurred on school property or at school events — regardless of whether a student was the victim or perpetrator — as well as incidents of sexual assault other than rape. Though research by AAUW and others show that these are less common than harassment, they are still reported at higher rates than are seen in the CRDC data, suggesting that reporting for these incidents at schools is also inadequate.


Improvement Is Needed

 A crucial first step toward solving problems is accurate reporting and measurement. AAUW analysis has found that educational institutions in the United States are failing to take this step toward preventing and addressing the sexual harassment and assault affecting all students, but particularly women and girls. Despite schools’ legal obligation to address these issues, improvement in both welcoming students’ reports of sexual harassment and violence — and accurately disclosing those incidents in annual reporting—has been slow at all levels of education. Additional focus is needed to fully enforce Title IX and the Clery Act, to preserve and not roll back critical protections for students, and to provide oversight of schools’ compliance with the laws. AAUW will continue to defend Title IX and promote its effective enforcement as a key to fair and equitable education for women and girls in the United States.



Harassment began when I was 11-years-old written in sidewalk chalk on the street.

AAUW Issues: Sexual Harassment and Sexual Violence in School

When education environments are hostile, students cannot learn and end up missing out on true educational opportunities.

A notebook and pencil on a desk in an empty school classroom

AAUW Issues:
Title IX

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 is a federal civil rights law that prohibits sex discrimination in education.

A young woman holds a sign reading "#meaningful #consent" in a protest

Know Your Rights: Sexual Harassment and Sexual Assault under Title IX

Sexual harassment and sexual violence disproportionately affect college women.