CIEE Health, Safety, and Security Data Report 2016-2021

Authored By:

Bill Bull

I am pleased to announce that CIEE has recently published the CIEE Health, Safety and Security Data Report 2016-2021 (HSS Data Report). We share this information with all our stakeholders, including participants and their families, U.S. partner institutions, colleagues, and beyond so we can all better prepare for students to have the safest possible experience studying abroad.

We suspended creation of this report during the near total disruption of our global operations from March 2020 through Summer 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But, with the robust return of students studying abroad, regular operations resumed and we were able to conduct our analysis. The most recent iteration of the annual HSS Data Report is a multi-year study from 2016 through 2021 that looks back at the reporting data and trends over the last six years at CIEE locations/programs worldwide. As always, several important points must be considered when reviewing the report/data:

  • The HSS Data Report covers all CIEE outbound programs. This amounts for roughly 76,000 participants over the past six years -- including 14–18-year-olds on 3-week summer study abroad programs, college students in academic-year programs, and college graduates with Teach Abroad. It is important to note that age of the participant, duration of the program, and program size may all influence the case numbers and the case percentage rates. For example, a 2-week faculty-led program with only a dozen college students might have an unusually high case rate for minor illness if four roommates fall ill on during the trip.
  • The HSS Data Report is only as good as the incident reporting. We are at times limited by both the quality and quantity of incident reporting. Under-reporting by our participants is all but guaranteed.  Nevertheless, CIEE staff worldwide record HSS cases in our incident database which have been reported to CIEE, not just by participants, but also by teachers, host families, home universities, parents or guardians, or even, occasionally, local authorities. As a result, programs where reporting is more likely may seem to have a greater frequency of incidents. For example:
    • Participants in CIEE classes may have their absences due to illness reported to CIEE by their professors but participants enrolled in classes at the host university may not have any absences communicated to CIEE.
    • High school participants may have incidents reported to us by their host families, while university participants living in a shared apartment will not. 
    • In countries and cultures where students rely on local CIEE staff for assistance -whether making an appointment with a specialist or reporting a crime to the police –  incident reporting may be higher than a country where students can readily and easily access these resources on their own – often in their own language.       

Despite these factors, there are several discernible trends in our participants’ health, safety, and security that can be gleaned from the data reports over the last six years.

  • Crime is rare but does happen.  Less than 2% of our participants reported being the victim of a crime abroad. Theft (without using force or intimidation) was by far the most common crime making up 52% of all reported crimes, but fewer than 1% of all CIEE participants reported being the victim of a theft.  Petty theft is by far the most common crime for students who do report being victimized.
  • Crime involving violence is the least reported crime, but many incidents do share certain characteristics that are typically in the control of the participant. Walking alone, especially walking alone after 10pm, stands out as the most common, and most avoidable, exposure to risk.  Alcohol stands out as a notable factor in sex offenses and some violent crimes. Being at a club/bar and drinking were commonly reported as part of violent crime incident reports.
  • The overwhelming majority (roughly 80%) of all HSS incidents recorded were related to health. Most health incidents are low impact (minor illnesses, injures, as well as those which require a physician or specialist). Nevertheless, since 2020, epidemic-related cases have also become an increasingly common occurrence.
  • In 2020-21 epidemic-related cases COVID-19 dominated all other aspects of health and safety management due to the tracking, communications, mitigation, and case management demands it created. However, CIEE recorded ZERO cases of severe illness or hospitalization for COVID-19. Epidemic-related cases, which include not only students with a positive test/diagnosis, but also students who were identified as close contacts, but tested negative or students who had to quarantine, etc., comprised about one in six incidents reported over this period.
  • The number and percentage of cases related to participants’ mental health/emotional wellbeing, dropped considerably during 2020, returning in 2021 to close to pre-pandemic levels. Although emotional distress has been recorded for fewer than 2% of all participants, the cases often have an outsized impact on local staff.
  • Despite an immense majority of our participants identifying as female, both genders were equally likely to report being the victim of crime, except in the case of forcible sex offenses, which were more frequently reported by female victims.

We encourage prospective students to review the CIEE HSS Data Report and consider how they can best prepare themselves to minimize the likelihood of being involved in a Health, Safety or Security incident.  We urge all stakeholders to familiarize themselves with the information in the report and share it with anyone considering studying abroad. 

No one can guarantee that nothing bad will happen to students studying abroad, but we can all look at the data and consider how best to mitigate the risks inherent in living life and living life overseas.