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Survey: 25.9% of undergrad women experience sexual assault

According to a recent survey by the Association of American Universities (AAU), more than a quarter of undergraduate women say that they have been sexually assaulted since starting college. That is, they were sexually touched or penetrated without their consent, either by force or because they were unable to consent.

The survey also found that 6.8% of male undergrads said they had experienced sexual assault. And, about 19% of students at the schools surveyed said they had experienced sexual harassment that either interfered with their academic pursuits or created a hostile educational environment.

Unfortunately, the majority of victims didn’t report the sexual assault or harassment to their schools. Responses as to why they didn’t report included feeling they could handle the situation on their own, feeling that the incident wasn’t serious enough to report, and feeling ashamed or embarrassed.

The survey queried students at 33 major universities. Half of the Ivy League’s members were involved, along with CalTech, Stanford, USC and other schools. Approximately 831,000 students were invited to participate in a confidential online questionnaire, and over 181,000 did so. That meant a response rate of 21.9%, which was weighted to reflect each university’s demographics.

In 2015, the Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation did a national poll of current and recent students at residential colleges and universities. That poll found that approximately 20% of college women had been sexually assaulted.

Skeptics claim these surveys over-represent victimization

As with any survey, the AAU survey is only accurate to within a few percentage points. It was performed by a company called Westat, which estimated that the findings could be off by two or three percentage points in either direction.

According to the Washington Post, some are skeptical about the results. They note that some people who didn’t respond to the survey might have had different experiences, on average, than those who did. This is called “nonresponse bias.”

The AAU, however, does not believe that nonresponse bias changed the outcome of the survey, especially because the results from the 2015 and 2019 surveys were so similar.

Growing awareness of sexual assault and campus resources

There appears to be one hopeful finding in this survey: more students appear to be aware of the definition of sexual assault and that there are campus resources available for victims.

“The results provide cause for both hope and continued concern,” said the AAU in a statement. “They reveal that while students know more about university-sponsored resources for victims of sexual assault and misconduct, they still aren’t using these resources often enough.”