Nearly one in four female undergraduates responding to a survey conducted by the Association of American Universities reported that she had been the victim of sexual assault or misconduct, according to eagerly anticipated findings released on Monday.
At the same time, fewer than a third of the respondents reported the incidents, even the most violent, to campus or local authorities. The most common reason? They didn’t feel the incidents were serious enough.
AAU officials cautioned against overgeneralizing about responses that varied widely among participating universities. Fewer than half of the association’s members participated, with many opting out because they planned their own studies. The response rate was 19 percent.
Still, the researchers said that, with input from more than 150,000 students at 27 universities — 26 AAU members and one nonmember, Dartmouth College — the effort represents one of the largest surveys to gauge the attitudes and experiences of college students with respect to sexual assault and misconduct. It also lends credence to previous studies that have found that one in five undergraduate women say they have experienced unwanted sexual contact with a rate, at 23 percent, that’s slightly higher than that.
The survey provides a more-nuanced look at one of the most vexing problems campuses face today at a time when their responses are being sharply scrutinized by the federal government and criticized by both accusers and accused.
It does so, in part, by providing separate estimates for two types of sexual contact: penetration and sexual touching. It also looks at four tactics: physical force, drugs and alcohol, coercion, and absence of affirmative consent. In addition, it examines incidents of sexual harassment, stalking, and intimate partner violence.
Breaking behaviors down in that way will allow campuses to tailor their responses more appropriately, the researchers said, and to avoid lumping together all sex-related offenses, from unwanted kissing to rape.
Among the specific findings:
- Over all, 11.7 percent of student respondents reported experiencing “nonconsensual sexual contact by physical force, threats of physical force, or incapacitation” since they enrolled at the university. For females, the rate was 23.1 percent, including 10.8 percent who experienced penetration.
- Only 5 percent to 28 percent reported the incident to law enforcement or other authorities.
- Still, more than six in 10 believed campus officials would take their complaints seriously and 56 percent felt confident those officials would take steps to keep them safe.
The rates of sexual assault and misconduct are highest among undergraduate females and those identifying as “transgender, genderqueer or non-conforming, or questioning.”
The association’s survey was conducted by Westat, a social-science research group, in April and May at 10 private and 16 public universities. It went out to undergraduate, graduate, and professional students.
For more, see this Chronicle article.