Survey Finds 23 Percent of Female College Students Experience Sexual Assault

The survey results reinforce previous surveys completed with a smaller sample size.

The results of a large sexual assault survey released September 21 support conclusions that were reached by victim advocates years ago.

The Association of American Universities (AAU) released the aggregate results of the Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct, a survey it undertook in partnership with 27 universities.

The aggregate survey results are generally consistent with other campus surveys on sexual assault and sexual misconduct. However, the survey found significant variations in many of the measures across participating institutions. Overall, 11.7 percent of student respondents across 27 universities reported experiencing nonconsensual sexual contact by physical force, threats of physical force, or incapacitation since they enrolled at their university. The incidence among female undergraduate student respondents only was 23.1 percent; it was 5.4 percent for male undergraduate student respondents.

More than 150,000 undergraduate, graduate and professional students at 26 AAU universities and one non-AAU institution participated in the survey during April and May of 2015. It is one of the largest surveys on sexual assault and sexual misconduct to provide insight into students’ perceptions of campus climate in terms of both number of schools and number of students.

The survey also looked at whether or not victims of sexual assault and sexual misconduct report the incident to either the university or another organization, such as law enforcement. Overall rates of reporting were low, ranging from five percent to 28 percent, depending on the specific type of behavior. When students were asked why they did not report incidents of sexual assault and sexual misconduct, the most common reason was that it was not considered serious enough. Other reasons included because they were “embarrassed, ashamed or that it would be too emotionally difficult,” and because they “did not think anything would be done about it.”

Finally, the survey revealed that more than six in 10 student respondents (63.3 percent) believe that a report of sexual assault or sexual misconduct would be taken seriously by campus officials. Fifty-six percent said it was very or extremely likely that the safety of those reporting incidents of sexual assault and sexual misconduct would be protected by university officials.

Each participating university has received a report on survey results for its campus. AAU has not received those results. Each campus will decide whether or not to release its own data.

An important and unique aspect of the survey is that it provides estimates of campus climates across a large number, and significant variety, of campuses. The survey provides ranges to show the variations without identifying individual campuses. The analysis by the survey team did not find a clear explanation for the wide range of findings and response rates across institutions. The overall response rate was 19.3 percent.

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