Anyone who reads about the findings of the National Center for Education Statistics and the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ new report on campus crime and safety is going to be extremely alarmed.

The study reported that the number of sex-related crimes on college campuses has gone up by 51 percent between 2001 and 2011. This led to headlines such as these: “College Sex Crimes up by 51 Percent, Even as Other Crimes Fall, Study Finds,” or “Report Sees Surge in Sex Crimes on College Campuses.”

But can this be true?

American Enterprise Institute researcher Caroline Kitchens has read the report and crunched the numbers to find that it is indeed not true. She writes:

In fact, the report shows no such thing. The reported 51 percent increase is based on raw numbers of reported offenses and fails to take into account the fact that college enrollment has increased dramatically since 2001. When the report’s authors accounted for this, they found that reported forcible sex offenses have increased by a much smaller margin — from 1.9 per 10,000 students in 2001 to 2.2 per 10,000 students in 2011.

It would have been more responsible and informative for the media to report that there has been about a 16 percent increase in the rate of reported sex crimes. But that would have been less useful for fueling the popular (though thoroughly discredited) narrative that American college campuses are in the midst of a booming sexual-assault epidemic.

Although many journalists have gone for the colorful headline, a few have acknowledged that the supposed 51 percent increase doesn’t reflect a genuine change on campus:

Some commentators have rightfully acknowledged that the increase in reporting is likely the result of years of activism focused on encouraging victims to come forward and insisting that schools accurately report crime data.

At Time, Eliza Gray writes that it may seem an “odd cause for celebration,” but “to many counselors and administrators, the increase is a sign that schools are getting better at handling sexual assault.” A writer for the feminist website Bustle insists that it’s evidence that “anti-sexual assault policies are actually working.”

Certainly, rape is an underreported crime, so it’s understandable that advocates view any increase in reporting as a victory. But it’s quite a stretch to imply that we can make fair-minded judgments on whether or not our policies are working based solely on the number of unsubstantiated reports of victimizations.

We at IWF want all accusations of sexual assault to be taken with utmost seriousness.

But we are concerned that an atmosphere of hysteria is developing—thanks in no small part to inflated numbers being bandied about from official reports.

If you share our concern, please join us for IWF’s June 26 panel entitled “Straight Talk: An Honest Conversation about ‘Rape Culture’ and Sexual Violence.”

Panelists are Factual Feminist Christina Hoff Sommers, Stuart Taylor of the Brookings Institution, columnist Cathy Young, and former Bush administration official Andrea Bottner, who handled international women’s issues. –

Wine and cheese and spirited but civil conversation! Sign up here.