It is notoriously difficult to get information about the prevalence of sexual assault, but one of the commonly cited statistics is that roughly one in five women in college will be sexually assaulted. Now, a new survey on sexual misconduct out of the University of Michigan backs up those findings. According to their survey, 22 percent of female undergraduates at the University have experienced nonconsensual sexual behavior. And the fact that so many surveys keep coming up with that same number says a lot.
The University of Michigan survey was developed by a team at the university, including their Institute for Social Research, Student Life, and the Office of the General Counsel. The survey was sent to a representative sample of 3,000 students, both graduate students and undergrads, of whom 67 percent responded, which is a high rate for a campus survey. Overall, 11 percent of all respondents reported they had experienced nonconsensual sexual behavior in the past year, with undergraduate women the most likely to be on the receiving end of such misconduct.
In fact, the survey revealed, 12 percent of female undergraduates had experienced nonconsensual sexual penetration, a rate roughly eight times higher than that of male students. Unlike other studies that have suggested freshman women are the most at risk, the University of Michigan survey didn't find any difference in risk between students in different years of undergrad, though graduate students were at less risk. They did, however, find that LGBT students and students of color from underrepresented groups were at greater risk, as were members of both fraternities and sororities.
Though each poll and each school is different, Michigan's overall findings are very much in line with other studies on sexual assault on campus. Other reports consistent with the "one in five" statistic include one from MIT, another from Harvard, and one from an unnamed upstate New York school, all within the past year, as well as the national poll conducted by the Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation and released earlier this month.
As the Washington Post writes regarding the new Michigan survey and its predecessors, "Taken together, these and other studies provide powerful evidence of a student culture at colleges and universities in which non-consensual sexual activity is so widespread that it verges on the routine." It's a disturbing prospect, but one that seems increasing likely, and more schools need to take action to make campuses safer for their students.
The University of Michigan says they plan to expand their healthy relationship training to include not only freshman but also sophomores, juniors, and seniors, to reiterate the message and make them more age-specific. They are also working to make more resources available to victims, and to encourage students to report assaults.
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