New study on campus sexual assault reveals some very disappointing news

Despite the efforts of many brave victims and allies to make the prevalence of sexual assaults on college campuses more visible, the problem remains decidedly pervasive. According to a new survey conducted by the Association of American Universities, a quarter of undergraduate women across 27 campuses have experienced “unwanted sexual contact” since starting their higher education. And that’s just the beginning.

Though only 19% (or 150,072) of the 779,168 students asked to participate in the survey responded, there was still plenty of data to go over and the results were incredibly depressing. For instance, just over 10% of undergrad women reported that they had experienced “penetration by force or incapacitation” during their college years, a number only eclipsed by the 12% of “transgender, genderqueer, non-conforming, and questioning” students who have experienced forcible sex.

The AAU survey also revealed a startling difference between private and public colleges: undergraduates at private institutions were slightly more likely to experience sexual assault or misconduct compared to their public school counterparts (25.3% v. 22.8%). What’s more, freshmen across all schools were more likely to face unwanted sexual advances than seniors (16.9% v. 11.1%) while undergrads in general experienced sexual assault at a significantly higher rate than their graduate counterparts. And at the level of sexual harassment, where rape culture is truly rooted, 49% to 74% of the undergraduate women across all 27 schools had weathered unwanted commentary about, “their body, appearance, or sexual behavior…or sexual remarks [and] offensive jokes.”

But by far, the most upsetting part of this survey was the revelation that sexual assault on campuses remains woefully underreported across genders, class levels, and sexual identity. More than half of the students admitted they didn’t file a report because the sexual assault didn’t seem “serious enough.” A third of students reported suffering in silence due to feelings of shame, embarrassment, and emotional difficulty while others felt, “[nothing] would be done about it.” 69% of those surveyed described their harassers or rapists as friends or acquaintances, meaning few of these incidences were random. 

There is good news, though. The survey found that agencies and programs on- and off-campus are becoming more responsive to the needs of sexual assault victims with two-thirds of those surveyed saying that the agency they reported to — be that university administration, police, or a local health clinic — was “extremely useful” or “very useful” when they made the decision to report sexual misconduct and didn’t pressure them to report or not report what happened to them.

In other words, no one needs to suffer alone.

If you’re interested in learning more about the prevalence of sexual misconduct on campuses, check out the whole survey here and don’t hesitate to lend your support to organizations like Take Back The Night and End Rape On Campus.

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