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Overreporting Sexual Assaults

Overreporting Sexual Assaults
October 2, 2009

The University of California at Davis revealed Thursday that for at least three years it reported an inflated number of sexual assaults to the federal government.

An internal investigation and an external review both found that the university totals released for 2005, 2006 and 2007 were substantially greater than the totals that had actually been reported on and around campus. Under the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act, colleges and universities must file annual statistics with the Department of Education and release them publicly to students and employees.

Davis reported 48 forcible sexual offenses in 2005, 68 in 2006 and 69 in 2007. The actual totals, according to the two reviews, were 21, 23 and 33.

The university places the blame on Jennifer Beeman, former director of its Campus Violence Prevention Program, who retired in June 2009. Beeman was on medical leave during the spring semester and a staffer tallying the 2008 statistics in her place found there had been just 17 forcible sexual offenses reported that year, which either indicated a drastic drop in crime from the year before or an indication of past misreporting. The latter, according to the internal and external reviews, was true.

Robert Loessberg-Zahl, assistant executive vice chancellor, said that because Beeman was “widely recognized as an authority on Clery matters, we didn’t have a second set of eyes look at the numbers reported.” In retrospect, he added, “that was a mistake.… We trusted her too much.”

Beeman, reached at her home in Sacramento, declined comment. Since she is no longer a university employee, Loessberg-Zahl said, the institution can’t take disciplinary action against her. He declined to speculate on her motivations for inflating the statistics.

After its initial announcement Thursday, the university also disclosed Beeman was placed on paid administrative leave in December 2008 while under investigation for improperly charging travel expenses to a federal grant. The university later changed her status to medical leave and she reimbursed Davis $1,372 for the charges. The findings of that probe led the university to initiate a second investigation, which is still ongoing.

S. Daniel Carter, director of Security on Campus, a nonprofit group run by the Clery family, said his group has “never seen anything like this.” Though there have been several incidents over the years of “what amounted to sloppy record keeping, there have been no other cases where you’re talking about 100 percent -- almost 200 percent -- more crimes of a certain kind being reported to the federal government than is actually true.”

Under the Clery Act, the Department of Education can fine institutions for misrepresenting crime statistics, whether underreporting, overreporting or otherwise conveying inaccurate information. West Virginia University is under investigation by the department and facing fines of as much as $27,500 for misrepresentations made in 2001 and 2002, Carter said. He estimated that Davis could face fines totaling $2.96 million.

Loessberg-Zahl said Davis was “absolutely cooperating with the Department of Education” as it investigates what happened there. “We understand there’s the possibility of sanctions, but at this point we haven’t heard from the department on any actions they’ll be taking.”

Going forward, though, the university has learned its lesson, he said. “All crime statistics compiled by staff will be checked by a panel of three experts,” a uniformed campus police officer, a Clery Act specialist from its Office of Student Judicial Affairs and a university counsel. With the new system in place, “we’ll have done what’s necessary to make sure the information we’re sending to the federal government is verified.”

Recent signs of trouble came in February, when the local Fox affiliate reported that there were more sexual assaults at Davis in 2007 than there were at all other University of California campuses combined. At the time, a Davis spokeswoman attributed the numbers to the fact that the institution had a “nationally recognized … model program for its outreach efforts and services for survivors.”

Beeman's misconduct may go back further. A 2001 Sacramento Bee investigation found that though the university had reported no sexual assaults under the Clery Act in 1998, Beeman said, when applying for a $543,000 federal grant, that there had been 700 rapes or attempted rapes there that year. She told the newspaper that she had extrapolated the number from national statistics on sexual assaults of college students but had not meant to include that total in her application.

Loessberg-Zahl said the university will work to re-verify its statistics for all 16 years that Beeman led the Campus Violence Prevention Program if the Department of Education "gives us some indication that we ought to go back and review those years."

 

 

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