The Clery Act: Literature Review

The Clery Act: Literature Review

By: Tyler Van Vliet

Editor’s note: Tyler Van Vliet was one of our 2020 interns and he spent his time with us compiling a literature review relating to the effectiveness of the Clery Act. We are now sharing that review, and this blog post will briefly go over its contents and major findings. You can find the full review linked at the bottom of this post.

The review is largely divided into four sections:

  • an overview of scholarly work surrounding the issue of campus safety prior to the Clery Act’s implementation; and
  • three sections focus on different issues that have arisen in the discourse surrounding Clery: discrepancy between Clery data and self-reported victimization surveys; Clery Act geography; and the substantive and symbolic success of the Clery Act.

As noted in the paper, a common finding and point of concern was that the data provided by the Clery Act drastically underrepresented the actual rate at which campus crime occurred. This should not be surprising due to the fact the Clery Act deals with crimes that often go unreported, including sexual assault and dating violence. For example, it is believed that only 5 to 20% of all completed or attempted cases of rape are ever reported.1

Clery Act geography raises a similar issue, where crime occurs in direct proximity to a campus but not technically on campus. This, in turn, leads to further inaccuracies in reported crime statistics, as they fail to provide an accurate depiction of crime in a given area. Clery geography has also proven to be a point of difficulty in terms of compliance. Many professionals point to vague or confusing language regarding Clery Act geography as making it difficult to determine what or what doesn’t constitute an on-campus crime.

In terms of successes, it is widely agreed upon in the field that the Clery Act has seen a great deal of symbolic success since its implementation. The Clery Act has been highly influential in keeping campus safety a major talking point and maintaining congressional attention, as well as causing institutions of education to discuss the issue of crime both internally and with students. While many commentators have questioned the accuracy and usefulness of Clery-reported crime statistics, it is generally understood that the Clery Act has greatly increased awareness of crime on college campuses. Two leaders in the field, Dennis Gregory and Steven Janosik, go so far as to state that Clery’s true goal is changing institutional behavior, not providing accurate crime statistics. And in this aspect, almost all agree Clery has succeeded. And even authors critical of the Clery Act are quick to point out that it is difficult to measure just how influential Clery has been in driving change and awareness.

There are substantive tangible successes for Clery as well. Annual security reports have become a reliable litmus test for how well a college is responding to the issue of campus crime. Increased reporting rates are recognized as an important indication that a college is taking issues seriously; they are the campuses doing something right. The yearly data provides an easily digestible way for institutions and observers to track ongoing progress. Multiple studies have also found that, overall, professionals that work in campus safety believe that the Clery Act has directly impacted and improved both campus crime reporting processes as well as student confidence in campus security. Finally, Clery mandated emergency notification systems (ENS) have been received extremely positively by both students and professionals. Over 80% of surveyed professionals believed the ENS’s to be effective in informing campus of safety issues, while only 4% believed the systems had no impact. 65% believed the ENS’s directly influenced student’s short-term decision-making regarding safety on campus.2

This blog only highlights the major criticism and successes of the Clery Act addressed in this literature review. We encourage anyone interested to read the paper in its entirety for more detail and specific data. You can download the paper here.

If you have interest in conducting Clery Act research, or you have research on the Clery Act you’d like to share with us, please contact [email protected].

1 Patel, Unnati and Ronald Roesch. “Campus Sexual Assault: Examination of Policy and Research.” Journal of Aggression, Conflict and Peace Research 10, no. 2 (2018): 103-111.

2 Travis W. Douglas, “Efficacy of Clery Act Timely Warning and Emergency Notification Messages,” Thomas Jefferson University, 29.