Laws to Make Campuses Safer

Starting in 1990, Congress acted to ensure that colleges have strategies to prevent and respond to sexual assault on campus and to give students and their parents accurate information about campus crime.

Two major federal laws are:

  • Student Right-to-Know and Campus Security Act of 1990 (20 U.S.C. § 1092). Requires that schools annually disclose information about crime, including specific sexual crime categories, in and around campus. Also known as the Clery Act in honor of a student who was sexually assaulted and murdered on her campus in 1986. Read a history of the Clery Act or the complete text of the act Exit Notice.
  • Campus Sexual Assault Victims’ Bill of Rights of 1992. An amendment to the Clery Act requiring that schools develop prevention policies and provide certain assurances to victims. Amended again in 1998 to expand requirements, including the crime categories that must be reported. Read the text of the act Exit Notice.  

Colleges and universities vary widely in how well they comply with Clery Act mandates and respond to sexual victimization. Overall, most schools — close to 80 percent — submit the annual security report required by the Act to the U.S. Department of Education; more than two-thirds include their crime statistics in the report.

Students should be aware that campus crime statistics are imperfect. According to a 1997 General Accounting Office study, schools had difficulty interpreting the federal reporting requirements, such as deciding which incidents to cite and deciding how to classify crimes. Definitions, even of such terms as “campus” and “student,” were often a challenge and contributed to inconsistency in calculating the number of reported sexual assaults. Only 37 percent of the schools studied reported their statistics in the required manner; for example, most schools failed to distinguish forcible and nonforcible sex offenses in their reports as required by the Clery Act.

Many schools have adopted promising practices. These include prevention programs; reader-friendly, easily accessible, and widely distributed sexual assault policies; and allowing anonymous, confidential, and third-party reporting.

Date Created: October 1, 2008