December 2, 2014

The Prevalence of Sexual Assault on Campuses

Morgan Mohr begins her series on sexual assault on college campuses by presenting and explaining the statistics.

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Photo of protesters at rally in Seattle

Photo of protesters at rally in Seattle

This article is first in a series of sexual assault on college campuses.

Sexual assault is by far the most under-reported crime in the United States. The U.S. Department of Justice’s 2011 Criminal Victimization report found that in that year only 27% of assaults were reported to the police. Despite the under-reporting of this crime, reports that do reach the public eye, such as the recent case at UVA  and similar cases, draw much-needed national attention to this issue.

What are these statistics, and how are they obtained?

Reported statistics are figures based on incidences of rape or assault that were reported to police. These reported statistics are publicly available for all campuses due to the Clery Act, a piece of federal legislation that requires universities to publicly report all crime statistics. In contrast, researchers who survey student populations compile estimated statistics. These statistics are considered estimates because the rates are based on research samples and the actual prevalence of experience of sexual assault in the larger population can only be inferred. For example, based on interviews with a reasonably nationally representative sample of 2,000 women who were attending four-year colleges or universities, Kilpatrick and colleagues (2007) discovered that only 11.5% of sexual assaults were reported to law enforcement and this figure dropped even further to 6% if alcohol use was involved. This low incidence of reporting assaults makes determining the actual degree of prevalence difficult. Because the official reporting rate is so low, estimated statistics are critical in measuring changes in sexual assault rates.

So how many people are sexually assaulted on campuses each year?

News outlets like Bloomberg have been reporting a “1 in 5 women” statistic based on a 2011 nationally representative survey conducted by the CDC, which refers to the number of women who have been victims of rape in their lifetimes. For estimates specific to college campuses, the American College Health Association-National College Health Assessment (ACHA-NCHA-II) Reference Group Data Report (2013) found that last year 8% of women (4% of men) were sexually touched without their consent, 4% of women (1% of men) experienced unwanted attempted penetration including vaginal, anal, or oral sex, and 2% of women reported that they were sexually penetrated without their consent.

What about at Indiana University?

In 2012, IU had the third-highest reported number of sexual assaults at 27 (Penn State had the highest number at 56). Indiana is one of the 85 schools under the Title IX investigation by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. The Department of Education has jurisdiction over this issue because sexual assault is a form of gendered harassment and discrimination, which violates Title IX.

How have assault statistics changed over time and what does this mean?

In the last three years, campus reports have risen 50%. Though having a higher rate of reported rapes makes campuses appear more violent, in reality the increased rates could be a sign of men and women feeling more comfortable reporting their assaults. Senator Claire McCaskill and others are more concerned about campuses where there are zero reported rapes.

As was chillingly portrayed in the Rolling Stone article on the recent UVA rape investigation, survivors face stigma and fear of retribution for reporting, as well as lack of knowledge about resources and a lack confidence in both the justice system and the university system. Since studies show that sexual assault is rampant across college campuses, a baseline goal of colleges should be to have reporting numbers that match anonymous survey data.

Morgan Mohr is a Wells Scholar majoring in Political Science, History, and an individualized major in Feminist Policy.

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