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Reported Rapes Go Through The Roof On Game Day At Big Football Schools

College football culture is causing hundreds of reported rapes every year, new research indicates.
The people said to be largely responsible for the rise in game-day rapes were offenders the victims did not know.
The people said to be largely responsible for the rise in game-day rapes were offenders the victims did not know.

The main findings:

  • Reported rapes rise by 41 percent on the day of home football games at FBS schools.
  • Reports of college-aged offenders raping college-aged victims rise by 58 percent on the day of home football games.
  • Reported rapes in which the victim doesn’t know the offender rise by 61 percent on the day of home games.
  • Football games appear to lead to as many as 770 rapes at FBS schools every year.

Home games at major college football schools are a breeding ground for sexual assault and are directly responsible for hundreds of additional rapes in the surrounding area every year, according to a new study published in the National Bureau of Economic Research.

And there's an unlikely source behind the spike in rapes: People the victims do not know.

The researchers found that rapes reported by victims ages 17-24 increase by 28 percent on days when there are football games at Football Bowl Subdivision schools. FBS schools, previously known as D I-A schools, typically field the best teams in college football. Rape reports at FBS schools increase even more on days of home games, rising by 41 percent.

The study used FBI crime data collected between 1991-2012 from 138 local and campus law enforcement agencies to compare the number of rape reports on game days to the number on non-game days. The research accounted for the number of reported rapes that usually occur on a particular day of the week or at a time of the year, which would seem to correct for much of the football season taking place during what is known as "The Red Zone" between the start of school and Thanksgiving, when freshman women are particularly susceptible to assault.  

In total, researchers were able to analyze 96 Division I football schools -- 55 of which were FBS schools and 41 of which were FCS or Football Championship Subdivision Schools, previously known as D-1AA schools.

“What we really wanted to do in this study is to quantify the degree to which partying and alcohol consumption actually cause increases in reports of rape, and that’s why we decide to investigate the effects of Division I football games," said Jason Lindo, an associate professor of economics at Texas A&M University and one of the study's co-authors. 

The researchers estimate that football games could lead to as many as 770 rapes at the 128 schools that make up the FBS every year, and no fewer than 253. How far the estimate swings in either direction depends on how much you attribute the rise in reported rapes to the influx of people to the area on game day -- more people might just mean a higher chance of rape -- or to a change in behavior associated with alcohol consumption and party culture.

The increase is most apparent among college-aged adults between the ages of 17 and 24. The researchers estimated that reports of college-aged offenders raping college-aged victims rose by 58 percent on the day of home games. And while there was some evidence of an increase in rape victims between the ages of 25 and 28, almost none of the victims were between the ages of 13 and 16. 

Lisa Maatz, vice president of government relations for the American Association Of University Women, was not as surprised by the report's top-line finding as she was by something else: The people said to be largely responsible for the rise in game-day rapes were offenders the victims did not know.

Researchers found that reported rapes involving an offender the victim didn’t know increased by 61 percent on home game days and by 29 percent during away games. By contrast, reported rapes involving an offender the victim did know rose by 28 percent during home games and by a statistically insignificant amount during away games.

Those numbers represent a startling spike in rapes by unknown offenders, since previous studies have shown that as many as 9 in 10 college-aged women victims know the person who assaulted them. This less-common type of rape seems much more prevalent on game days.

Researchers pointed to other signs that the increased rapes are tied directly to college football culture. Games against school rivals or prominent football programs seemed to lead to a steep rise in reported rapes, as did upset victories (notably, schools did not experience a significant rise in reported rapes when the opponent won in an upset). And while away games that were televised appeared to lead to a much smaller but still notable rise in reported rapes, this was not true of games that were not televised.

The effects were also felt much less at FCS schools, where football is a less prominent aspect of university life. There, home games appeared to lead to a 31 percent increase in reported rapes and away games had no effect. Division II and Division III games appeared to have no effect whatsoever on the number of reported rapes.

While the evidence is alarming, Maatz made sure to emphasize that this is not just a college problem or a football problem, but an American problem.

"[The problem] is just rape culture overall, and that’s not exclusive by any stretch to college campuses,” Maatz said. “It’s an important area of research but it does not solve the problem or answer all the questions.”

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