Campus & Community

Crime numbers falling in several categories

5 min read

On-campus crime appears to be decreasing in several categories at Harvard University according to newly released crime statistics posted on the U.S. Department of Education Office of Postsecondary Education Web site this week.

The comprehensive list includes figures on criminal offenses, hate offenses, and arrests. Some 6,000 colleges and universities across the country were required to post the information this month under the terms of the 1998 amendment to the Higher Education Act of 1965.

Harvard releases many crime statistics every year, more than are required by law. “We go out of our way to release as much information about crime statistics as possible to the public,” says Francis D. “Bud” Riley, director of Police and Security and chief of police with the Harvard University Police Department (HUPD). “We err on the side of full disclosure.” The crime statistics are distributed to all current employees and students, and are also made available to the state, all prospective students and employees, and any other person who requests them.

Harvard’s numbers appear consistent with other large institutions in city settings. There were 502 reported “burglaries” on the Cambridge campus last year. That’s fewer than the year before, but Riley says the number is artificially inflated by the inclusion of often minor theft and larceny cases, such as stolen book bags.

The data also cites eight on-campus reports of aggravated assault last year, 10 fewer than 1998. There were four robbery reports and eight reports of motor vehicle thefts.

HUPD also reported 11 cases of forcible sex offenses last year — nine of them coming from confidential reports filed through an extensive support network on campus. The network of more than 100 tutors, deans, and others who interact with students was established to help students deal with sensitive issues like sex crimes, and to steer them through the proper channels for assistance.

Those channels include counseling through both Harvard University Health Services (HUHS) and the Bureau of Study Counsel; advice from trained Sexual Assault/Sexual Harassment (SASH) tutors in each of the Houses and the Freshmen Yard; and the office of Karen Avery, Assistant Dean of Harvard College for Coeducation, which can provide references both inside and outside of Harvard for support and for the pursuit of complaints.

Some survivors choose not to file criminal complaints, according to Riley. “We always encourage people to come forward and seek assistance,” he says. “But our police officers stress the fact that if the survivor wants to remain confidential, we will not prosecute. It is their decision.”

Dean of Harvard College Harry R. Lewis points to Harvard’s pro-active stance in dealing with sexual assault issues. “Even one sexual assault against a student is too many, and the College makes constant efforts to improve the safety of this community through both education and prevention.” Lewis says.

At the beginning of each academic year, all incoming students receive Harvard College “safety kits,” which contain brochures on sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape, and include phone numbers for police and counseling agencies. “We urge any student concerned about a sexual assault to talk to HUPD, to a tutor, or a counselor — to ‘Tell Someone’ as the brochure is titled,” Lewis says.

Additional data on the sexual assault issue will be provided by a survey of more than 20,000 students at 35 colleges and universities conducted by the American College Health Association (ACHA). The results are expected to be released within a few weeks.

Preliminary results from the National College Health Assessment indicate .8 percent of the Harvard College students who responded reported experiencing “sexual penetration against [their] will” during the previous year. That compares to 1.9 percent in the aggregate data. Of the Harvard respondents, 2.2 percent reported experiencing “attempted sexual penetration against [their] will.” That compares to 3.2 percent in the aggregate data.

Victor Leino, research director for the ACHA, further cautions that since only 36 percent of those students solicited at Harvard responded to the survey, the results are not applicable to the campus as a whole. “The response proportion (the number of surveys returned divided by the number of surveys distributed) also varies from school to school. When the response proportion falls below 70 percent the individual researchers/surveyors must be careful not to make statistical generalization to the entire campus.”

David S. Rosenthal, director of the University Health Services, believes the survey will only strengthen efforts to prevent sexual crimes at Harvard. “Any issue that impacts the health, well-being, or safety of our students is a concern. HUHS takes rape and sexual assault seriously, and works continually to aid preventive efforts and support survivors, whatever the incidence,” he says. “What statistics and other forms of student input can do is provide insight into what is occurring and this knowledge supports our efforts of being responsive to the needs of our students.”

The Harvard crime statistics are available online through the U.S. Department of Education Web site at