Survey: 20% of female students at UF report they've been sexually assaulted

National study included 150,000 students at 27 institutions


GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Nearly a quarter of undergraduate women surveyed at more than two dozen universities say they experienced unwanted sexual contact -- anything from unwanted touching to rape -- sometime during college, according to a report released Monday.

The study also found that more than half of the victims never reported it.

"I get a lot of the UF alerts, so I know things do happen," UF freshman Melanie Leisen said. "I just didn't know it was that common and that many people hadn't reported it."

The results of the Association of American Universities Campus Climate Survey come at a time of heightened scrutiny of the nation's colleges and universities and what they are doing to combat sexual assault. Just last week, Vice President Joe Biden visited Ohio State University and highlighted several new initiatives, including mandatory sexual violence awareness training for the school's freshmen beginning next year.

At the University of Florida, the voluntary survey was distributed to 12,000 randomly selected students in April in an effort to learn their knowledge, attitudes and experiences regarding sexual violence.

With almost 17 percent of UF students responding, the survey results will be used to further develop programs and initiatives that educate the student community regarding inappropriate behavior, available resources, ways to report and resolution options. 

"So often, because it's a friend of an acquaintance, so many of us have grown up in a world in which the person we need to fear is the stranger jumping out of the bushes," said UF's associate dean of students, Chris Loschiavo.

DOCUMENTS: Full results of AAU Campus Climate Survey | UF Campus Climate results

UF's findings generally mirror student responses from the other top-tier universities that participated in the study and align with similar recent national surveys of sexual assault and misconduct on college campuses.

  • One in five UF female undergraduate students indicated they have experienced some type of sexual assault ranging from sexual touching such as groping to unwanted penetration since entering UF. Five percent of male undergraduates reported the same.
  • 17.6 percent of non-heterosexual UF students reported experiencing non-consensual penetration or sexual touching involving physical force or incapacitation, compared with 10.6 percent for heterosexuals.
  • In responding to questions concerning sexual harassment, which includes offensive comments and jokes, the offender's affiliation to the university was described nearly 92 percent of the time as another student; more than 70 percent of students who said they were harassed said the offender was a friend or acquaintance.
  • The survey also looked at whether female victims of sexual assault and sexual misconduct report it to either the university or another organization, such as law enforcement. Of female students who responded that they had been victims of penetration by physical force:
  • 58 percent said they did not report the behavior because they did not think it was serious enough to report;
  • 23 percent did not report the incident because they did not think anything would be done about it;
  • 18 percent did not report because they feared the information would not be kept confidential; and
  • 27 percent did not report because they felt embarrassed or ashamed.

"UF volunteered to participate in this survey because of the importance of this issue. The survey gives us the ability to learn about our students' experiences and use that data to make our community a safer one for all students," Dean of Students Jen Day Shaw said. "At UF, every Gator counts."

The university has put in a lot of resources students can use, including more than 300 blue emergency reporting stations, where the push of a button gets the student in touch with police. 

The results were generally in line with past surveys on sexual assault and misconduct on college campuses and confirmed that alcohol and drugs are important risk factors.

"How many surveys will it take before we act with the urgency these crimes demand?" said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York, who is pushing for passage of a bill that would address how sexual assault cases are handled on campus and the resources available to help students.

Researchers cautioned against generalizations from the data, partly because experiences of different students and at different schools could vary widely. It was not a representative sample of all the nation's colleges and universities.

The survey found freshman women appeared to be at greater risk than older students for forced or incapacitated encounters. About 17 percent of freshman females reported sexual contact that was forced or while incapacitated; for senior-year students, the percentage had dropped to 11 percent.

The survey provided a rare glimpse into the experiences of the small percentage of students who are transgender or who don't identify as either male or female. Undergraduates in that category reported the highest rate of the most serious nonconsensual acts.

"Our universities are working to ensure their campuses are safe places for students," AAU President Hunter Rawlings said in a statement. "The primary goal of the survey is to help them better understand the experiences and attitudes of their students with respect to this challenge."

The study found that only a relatively small percentage of serious incidents was reported to the university or another group, a including law enforcement agency. Across the institutions, it ranged from 5 percent to 25 percent.

The most common reason cited by students for not reporting an incident was that they didn't consider it serious enough. Others said they were embarrassed or ashamed or "did not think anything would be done about it."

Those who chose to report the incidents, however, said they had generally favorable experiences. Well over half said their experience with the organization that handled the report was very good or excellent.

Twenty-six participating institutions were AAU member research universities: Brown; California Institute of Technology; Case Western Reserve; Columbia; Cornell; Harvard; Yale; Iowa State; Michigan State; Ohio State; Purdue; Texas A&M; and the universities of Arizona, Florida, Michigan, Minnesota-Twin Cities, Missouri-Columbia, North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh, Southern California, Texas at Austin, Virginia, Wisconsin-Madison and Washington University in St. Louis. One nonmember, Dartmouth College, also participated.

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