According to an upsetting new study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health that has highlighted the prevalence of sexual abuse at universities, 19 percent of women have been a victim of rape or attempted rape during their freshman year of college. Campus rape culture has been the subject of a lot of media attention this year, perhaps most notably through Emma Sulkowicz's "Carry That Weight" performance piece in response to Columbia University's handling of her assault. Surveys like this are revealing how worryingly common stories like Sulkowicz's are.
The survey, done by researchers at Brown University and Miriam Hospital's Centers for Behavioral and Preventive Medicine in Providence, Rhode Island, focused on freshmen students to avoid "recall bias" and looked at 483 first years from a private university in upstate New York. It found that most of the assaults happened during the first three months at university. The lead author, Kate Carey, hopes that this will serve as a real "call to arms," highlighting the importance of early education and also the need to "engage all members of the community in talking about what are healthy relationships." And it can't happen soon enough. With numbers as high as nearly 20 percent of women experiencing rape or attempted rape, just in their freshman year, it's not a case of "it's happened to someone you know"— it's probably happening to a lot of people you know.
1 in 5
The 1 in 5 statistic has come up discussions about rape before, originating in a 2007 study for the U.S. Department of Justice, which had reported that one in five were sexually assaulted on college campuses, according to CNN. This study had been questioned for including unwanted kissing and fondling, which some found too wide of a definition for sexual assault, but in this new study's stricter definition the numbers are comparable. The network reports that "the definition in this study solely included cases involving the threat of force or the use of force, or incapacitation so that a woman could not resist or consent."
How representative is this study?
Carey admits that we cannot expect the situation at this particular university to be found everywhere, but emphasizes that it is only echoing and solidifying the numbers found in other research: "The more survey studies, the more assessments that we have out there that are sort of revealing somewhat similar findings, the more confidence that we have that it is a somewhat generalizable picture that we're seeing here."
Indeed, The Huffington Post reports that "a Centers for Disease Control report last year showed 19.3 percent of women are victims of rape or attempted rape during their lifetimes" and provides a comparison of other surveys here. With more and more researching giving similar results, it's becoming clear how wide-spread this problem are.
What can be done?
The bottom line, as Carey tells CNN, is that this needs to change:
We don't want to see these kinds of numbers if we do (a study) like this five or 10 years from now, and we have an opportunity to step in and to really work diligently as parents and faculty and coaches and advisers and administrators to create an environment where these kinds of things are becoming much, much less common.