The issue of campus crime is no longer simply about determining “how much is there,” but is instead a multidimensional problem that poses challenges and opportunities on several fronts. How postsecondary institutions address these challenges and opportunities will certainly shape understanding of campus crime as well as the risks it poses to members of the campus community.
Illegal activities occurring within the boundaries of postsecondary institutions (PSIs), including assaults, rapes, and even homicide, are not new, nor have college campuses escaped various forms of “high-tech” offenses such as cyberstalking or illegal sharing of copyrighted material such as videos and music. However, until very recently, crime on college and university campuses was something college and university administrators in the United States were reluctant to discuss. Typically, criminal incidents occurring on campus that involved students were either handled internally via closed campus disciplinary proceedings, the results of which were not publicly available, or they were quietly handled by the local authorities. PSIs were not forthcoming about how much crime occurred within their institutional boundaries, nor were they forthcoming about their security policies, including whether they even existed. In short, campus crime was a “dirty little secret” that few schools were willing to discuss, let alone admit was problematic, and schools went to great lengths to keep the secret.
That reality changed in the early morning hours of April 5, 1986, when Jeanne Clery, then a sophomore at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, was raped, tortured, and strangled to death in her own bed in a campus residence hall by another student who had gained entry to her dormitory through a series of doors that had either been propped open or whose locks were defective. Ms. Clery’s death resulted in Lehigh being held civilly liable, as well as nearly a 5-year lobbying effort by her parents to get Congress to pass legislation that forced PSIs to “come clean” with their campus crime statistics and security policies.
To better understand campus crime, one needs to realize that it involves several contexts—the legal, the social, and the security—and that each context is interrelated with the others (Fisher & Sloan, 2007). The legal context involves judicial and legislative efforts to address campus crime, including institutional liability for on-campus victimizations and Congressional and state legislative efforts to address the problem. The social context involves efforts to develop more accurate measures of the extent and nature of campus crime, identify its major correlates, and understand better its temporal and spatial distribution. Finally, the security context involves not only law enforcement and security efforts to reduce or prevent crime on campus, but also recently has involved efforts to address “high tech” crimes such as identity theft or network intrusions occurring on college campuses.
By understanding that campus crime involves the intersection of these three contexts, one can then understand that campus crime is not simply about answering basic questions such as “how much is there” at a particular school, but is rather a multidimensional phenomenon that touches the lives of members of the campus community—students, staff, and faculty members—in a variety of ways.