Criminology Campus Crime
John J. Sloan, III
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 November 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 November 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396607-0290


Despite the fact that deviance in all its forms has existed on college and university campuses since their inception, criminological interest in colleges and universities in this country as contexts for crime and victimization did not begin in earnest until the 1990s and passage of the federal Student Right-to-Know and Campus Security Act of 1990 (see the separate Oxford Bibliographies in Criminology articles “Contextual Analysis of Crime” and “School Crime and Violence”). Now known as the Clery Act, the legislation requires that all postsecondary institutions participating in federal financial aid programs publicly report their crime statistics and security policies each year. Taking cues from scholarship on how the characteristics and dynamics of workplaces, neighborhoods, and schools relate to patterns of crime and victimization occurring in them, scholarship on campus crime has sought since the 1990s to identify and understand, theoretically and empirically, how variability in the dimensions of the campus—physical size and features as well as location, size, and diversity of the student body—are related to patterns of crime and victimization occurring on them. This article discusses campus crime by examining several topics, including early, groundbreaking work as well as more recent scholarship associated with them. The article begins with studies providing General Overviews of the social, legal, and administrative contexts of campus crime. The article then examines Theoretical Perspectives on Campus Crime that have been used to explain patterns and trends in campus crime. The third section examines commonly used Data Sources on campus crime, followed by a discussion of Campus Crime Incidents and Types. The fifth section discusses Fear and Perceived Risk of Victimization on Campus. The sixth section of the article describes Campus Policing and Security. The concluding section, Responding to and Preventing Campus Crime, examines efforts at preventing campus crime and responses to it by colleges and universities in the United States.

General Overviews

Most of the scholarly attention to campus crime has involved analyzing patterns and correlates using increasingly sophisticated methodologies. Early studies, like McPheters 1978 and Fox and Hellman 1985, rely on crimes known to campus or local police available from the Crime in the United States (CIUS) report (cited under Data Sources) produced annually since the 1930s by the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) program and relatively small samples of schools. The authors of Sloan 1994 and Volkwein, et al. 1995 use larger samples of schools and more sophisticated data analytic tools but they continue to rely on UCR data. During the late 1990s and continuing to the present, scholars continue not only to use UCR data, but also to use victimization data collected from students. The authors of Fisher, et al. 1999 spearheaded these efforts by conducting the first, national-level general victimization survey of a representative sample of college students. More recently, the authors of Weiss and Dilks 2016 use victimization data to examine physical assaults on campus. Phipps and Smith 2012 presents results of the first nationwide survey of college women in the United Kingdom about their experiences with sexual violence. Scholars also considered campus crime outside of what Fisher and Sloan 2013 labels the “social context,” which includes legal and administrative spheres. For example, Fisher 1995 presents a pioneering overview of the legal, legislative, and administrative contexts of campus crime, while MacKinnon 2016 and Newcomer 2017 examine theories of institutional liability for on-campus victimization. Finally, a book-length treatise, Sloan and Fisher 2011 traces the social construction of campus crime as a “new” social problem resulting in federal and state intervention.

  • Fisher, Bonnie S. 1995. Crime and fear on campus. The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 539.1: 85–101.

    DOI: 10.1177/0002716295539001007

    Pioneering overview of the legal, legislative, and administrative responses to campus crime and fear of victimization on campus by one of the leading scholars on campus crime.

  • Fisher, Bonnie S., Francis T. Cullen, John J. Sloan III, and Chungmeng Lu. 1999. Crime in the ivory tower: The nature and source of student victimization. Criminology 33.3: 671–710.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1745-9125.1998.tb01262.x

    The authors use data from the first national-level general victimization survey ever conducted of college students about their victimization experiences, on- and off-campus, to examine patterns of property and violent victimization.

  • Fisher, Bonnie S., and John J. Sloan III. 2013. Campus crime: Legal, social and policy perspectives. 3d ed. Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas.

    Third edition of a popular edited volume of original work. Covers such topics as federal and state legislation addressing campus crime; college student victimization rates; lifestyle/routine activity explanations for college student victimization; alcohol use and abuse as correlates of student victimization; sexual victimization of college women; stalking and cyberstalking by and against college students; evolution, organization, and practices of campus law enforcement agencies; and high-tech crimes involving information systems.

  • Fox, James A., and Daryl A. Hellman. 1985. Location and other correlates of campus crime. Journal of Criminal Justice 13.5: 429–444.

    DOI: 10.1016/0047-2352(85)90043-1

    Examines the effects of various dimensions of college campuses on crime levels at a sample of 222 colleges and universities.

  • Jacobson, Shannon K. 2017. Examining crime on campus: The influence of institutional factors on reports of crime at colleges and universities. Journal of Criminal Justice Education 28.4: 559–579.

    DOI: 10.1080/10511253.2017.1282799

    Jacobson uses two different data sets to examine patterns of violent crime on campus and the effect of the presence of institutional campus security measures on student reporting of violent incidents by student gender. Discusses considerations that should be accounted for when relying on official reports of crime on campus.

  • MacKinnon, Catharine A. 2016. In their hands: Restoring institutional liability for sexual harassment in education. Yale Law Journal 125.7: 2038–2105.

    Argues that the current liability standard for schools of “deliberate indifference” is inconsistent with Title IX’s guarantee of equal educational outcomes on the basis of sex. By replacing deliberate indifference with the standard of “due diligence,” power is shifted into the hands of survivors, institutional liability is guaranteed, impunity for sexual abuse in schools is ended, and sex-based equality in education is promoted.

  • McPheters, Lee R. 1978. Econometric analysis of factors influencing crime on the campus. Journal of Criminal Justice 6.1: 47–52.

    DOI: 10.1016/0047-2352(78)90038-7

    Early study that uses data from seventy-five colleges and universities to test the hypothesis that crime on campus bears a systematic and identifiable relationship to the characteristics of the student population, physical features of the campus, and local economic indicators.

  • Newcomer, Leigh Anne S. 2017. Institutional liability for rape on campuses: Reviewing the options. Ohio State Law Journal 78:503–539.

    This piece examines several theories of institutional liability for on-campus victimization and evaluates the effectiveness of each.

  • Phipps, Allison, and Geraldine Smith. 2012. Violence against women students in the UK: Time to take action. Gender and Education 24.4: 357–373.

    DOI: 10.1080/09540253.2011.628928

    Analyzes and presents results from the Hidden Marks study of the National Union of Students, the first nationwide victimization survey of women students’ experiences with violence conducted during 2009–2010. Results indicate that rates of sexual violence against college women in the United Kingdom are comparable to those in the United States.

  • Sloan, John J., III. 1994. The correlates of campus crime: An analysis of reported crimes on college and university campuses. Journal of Criminal Justice 22.1: 51–61.

    DOI: 10.1016/0047-2352(94)90048-5

    Study includes nineteen institutional and student-related variables and Sloan uses multivariate modeling to examine the impact of these variables on total crime, violent crime, property crime, and drug/alcohol violations known to police at 574 colleges and universities in the United States.

  • Sloan, John J., III, and Bonnie S. Fisher. 2011. The dark side of the ivory tower: Campus crime as a social problem. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    Argues that despite the fact that crime, violence, and other forms of deviance have existed on college and university campuses in this country since they were founded in the 18th and 19th centuries, it was not until the 1980s that violence on campus, institutional liability for on-campus victimizations, and student binge drinking of alcohol were reframed by interest groups, including college student victims and their families, feminists, and public health researchers, as a new and dangerous social problem—campus crime—that necessitated federal intervention.

  • Volkwein, J. Fredericks, Bruce P. Szelest, and Alan J. Lizotte. 1995. The relationship of campus crime to campus and student characteristics. Research in Higher Education 36.6: 647–670.

    DOI: 10.1007/BF02208249

    One of the first studies to examine trends in campus crime (1974–1990) at 416 colleges and universities. The authors also conduct a cross-sectional multivariate analysis of the impact on campus violent and property crime based on student, campus, and community characteristics.

  • Weiss, Karen G., and Lisa M. Dilks. 2016. Intoxication and crime risk: Contextualizing the effects of “party” routines on recurrent physical and sexual attacks among college students. Criminal Justice Review 41.2: 173–189.

    DOI: 10.1177/0734016816634784

    Using victimization data taken from a random sample of 852 undergraduate students enrolled at a large public postsecondary institution located in the north-central region of the United States in the fall of 2009, this study contextualizes the effects of college students’ ‘‘party’’ routines (e.g., drinking, drug use, and time spent at bars or parties) on risk of student-perpetrated physical attack (including fights), rape (including attempted rape), and unwanted sexual contact (e.g., nonconsensual sexual touching, fondling, and grabbing of the body). Consistent with prior research, the study finds physical and sexual attacks are common at college –.more than one third of sample members experienced at least one incident of physical attack, rape, or unwanted sexual contact while at college and almost one-half of these students were victimized more than once. The study also finds a strong link exists between intoxication and crime, but even as students’ party routines increase crime risk, how and where students party have very different effects on type of victimization experienced.

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