MONDAY, Feb. 2, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- Some U.S. universities and colleges appear to be under-reporting sexual assaults on their campuses, a new study concludes.
Researchers looked at data about on-campus sexual assaults reported by 31 large private and public universities and colleges during audits by the federal government. During the audits, the number of reported sexual assaults rose an average of 44 percent compared to previously reported figures.
After the audits ended, the reported number of sexual assaults fell to pre-audit levels. This finding suggests that some schools provide accurate statistics about sexual crimes only when they're under government scrutiny, according to the study.
"When it comes to sexual assault and rape, the norm for universities and colleges is to downplay the situation and the numbers," study author Corey Rayburn Yung, a law professor at the University of Kansas, said in an American Psychological Association news release.
"The result is students at many universities continue to be attacked and victimized, and punishment isn't meted out to the rapists and sexual assaulters," he added.
Results were published online Feb. 2 in the journal Psychology, Public Policy, and Law.
The study included large universities and colleges with on-campus housing and more than 10,000 students that were audited by the U.S. Department of Education from 2001 to 2012. Off-campus crimes involving students were not included in the study.
Most of the audits were triggered by complaints about how schools handled sexual assaults or other violent crimes on campus. Some of the audits were conducted in conjunction with FBI investigations of local police, and some universities were audited at random.
Individual data for each school wasn't published in the study. But, the authors noted that not all of the schools saw a surge in reported sexual assaults during the audits.
The study also found that reporting of other serious crimes -- such as assault, robbery and burglary -- during audits didn't show the same dramatic increase as seen in the reporting of sexual assaults.
"Colleges and universities still aren't taking the safety of their students from sexual assault seriously," Yung said.
"The study shows that many universities continue to view rape and sexual assault as a public relations issue rather than a safety issue. They don't want to be seen as a school with really high sexual assault numbers, and they don't want to go out of their way to report that information to students or the media," he concluded.
The American Association of University Women has more about ending campus sexual assault.