Report: 1 in 3 College Students Sexually Harassed at School

Published: January 29, 2006

WASHINGTON – A report recently released by the American Association of University Women’s (AAUW) Educational Foundation suggests sexual harassment pervades campus life. According to Drawing the Line: Sexual Harassment on Campus, a majority of U.S. college students encounter some type of sexual harassment and about one-third say that they have been physically harassed while at college.

Both male and female students encounter sexual harassment, but female students who have been sexually harassed are more likely to say they feel self-conscious or embarrassed, angry, less sure of themselves or less confident, afraid or scared, confused or conflicted about who they are and disappointed in their college experience as a result of sexual harassment.

The report analyzes findings from a nationally representative survey of undergraduate students and, according to the AAUW, is the most comprehensive research to date on sexual harassment on college campuses.

“This groundbreaking new report is the first step in truly understanding what happens on college campuses and how to best create harassment-free schools,” said Barbara O’Connor, AAUW Educational Foundation president. “Because our research shows that sexual harassment takes an especially heavy toll on young women, we are concerned that sexual harassment may make it harder for them to get the education they need to take care of themselves and their families in the future.”

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AAUW plans to follow up this research by helping colleges and universities forge solutions. The association is funding programs on 11 campuses aimed at finding ways to combat campus sexual harassment. These projects will be selected to help students, faculty and administrators understand the scope of the problem, raise awareness of the issue and implement projects that affect change in the campus climate.

“A campus environment that permits inappropriate verbal and physical contact undermines the emotional, intellectual and professional growth of millions of young adults,” said Ruth Sweetser, AAUW president. “In such a setting, young men and women fail to learn appropriate behaviors essential for success later in life. We need to support efforts that help them determine where and how to draw the line on sexual harassment.”

Overview of research findings:

  • Sexual harassment is widespread on college campuses. Nearly two-thirds (62 percent) of undergraduate students say they have encountered some type of sexual harassment and nearly one-third (35 percent of female students and 29 percent of male students) say the harassment is physical, such as being touched, grabbed or pinched in a sexual way.
  • Sexual harassment takes an especially heavy toll on female students. More than two-thirds (68 percent) of female students who experience sexual harassment feel very or somewhat upset as a result. Conversely, only one-third (35 percent) of male students admit to being very or somewhat upset. Among female students who encountered sexual harassment, one-third (32 percent) said they felt afraid and about one-fifth (18 percent) said that they felt disappointed in their college experience as a result of sexual harassment.
  • Most harassers think sexual harassment is funny. Half of male students (51 percent) and almost one-third of female students (31 percent) admit to harassing someone in college. A majority of students (59 percent) who admit to harassing another student say they did so because they thought it was funny, as opposed to nearly one-third (32 percent) who thought the person liked it. Less than one-fifth (17 percent) wanted a date with the person.
  • Students rarely report sexual harassment to a college employee, yet many would like a way to report incidents. Only 7 percent of students say they reported sexual harassment to a faculty member or other college employee. More than half of students (57 percent) would like their college or university to offer a confidential, Web-based method for submitting complaints about sexual harassment. Nearly half (47 percent) would like their college or university to designate an office or person to contact about sexual harassment.
  • One in six students received suggestive pictures, Web pages or messages.
  • 7 percent had their clothes pulled down.
  • 5 percent were asked for sexual favors in exchange for a better grade, class notes, a recommendation or other perks.

For additional information on Drawing the Line: Sexual Harassment on Campus including a PDF copy of the report, visit

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