LOS ANGELES—Officials at University of Southern California and Occidental College acknowledged they have underreported the number of campus sexual assaults in recent years, which is a potential violation of federal law and could lead to hundreds of thousands of dollars in penalties.

USC disclosed it failed to report 13 cases to federal officials for 2010 and 2011, while Occidental acknowledged it didn't include 24 reports during the same time frame, the Los Angeles Times reported ( http://lat.ms/1ahD6aD).

Women at USC, Occidental and other colleges have filed complaints with the U.S Department of Education over the past two years, claiming administrators discouraged them from reporting sexual attacks or downplayed the severity of the incidents.

Federal officials could not be reached for comment because of the partial government shutdown.

Colleges are required to report campus crime statistics to the U.S Department of Education under the federal Clery Act. Each violation can draw a penalty of up to $35,000.

Occidental is now under investigation for violations of the law. Students at USC have filed a complaint alleging Clery violations that federal investigators have yet to act on. In addition, both schools are under investigation for possible violations of Title IX, a federal antidiscrimination law that requires colleges to impartially investigate sexual assaults, the Times said.

Occidental officials said they discovered 49 anonymous reports of sexual assaults spanning several years in a 2010 survey conducted by Project SAFE, a campus group that seeks to raise awareness about sexual assaults. Nineteen of those incidents should have been disclosed under federal rules, which require the reporting of all sexual assaults on campus or in the immediate vicinity.

"It was a mistake," Occidental spokesman Jim Tranquada said.

The 1990 Clery Act, which stemmed from a rape and killing on a Pennsylvania campus, is intended to give the public an accurate view of campus safety, and the statistics are consulted by parents, students and others evaluating the campuses, according to the newspaper. The law covers criminal allegations, regardless of whether they are reported to police or adjudicated in court.

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Information from: Los Angeles Times, http://www.latimes.com