Students fill out signs saying "I Need Title IX Because..."

DOJ campus survey: at one school, 1 in 2 women have been sexually assaulted

The Bureau of Justice Statistics released yesterday the overall results of a sexual assault survey of nine schools. More than 23,000 students responded. Their survey confirms a few terrible things that most of us already know. 

Sexual violence is a massive massive problem. Overall, 25% of female respondents across the 9 schools reported experiencing some form of sexual assault since they enrolled at their schools. There was high variability between schools: at one, 1 in 2 women were sexually assaulted during their time in college; at another, 1 in 8.

Rates of sexual assault are highest not only among undergraduate women, but for those students identifying as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or another identity not listed on the survey. At each of these eight schools, the observed prevalence of sexual assault victimization was higher for queer students than straight students (over half of the former were assaulted in their lifetime compared to one third of the latter). And because this survey doesn’t highlight this enough, we should go back to Reina’s important piece a few months ago breaking down a report with similarly high (but typically ignored) statistics for trans, genderqueer, and gender non-conforming students: in the 2014-2015 school year, TGQN students were raped at twice the rate of the national average for all students 4.4% of all students; 6.9% of females and 9.0% of TGQN. These students are not only more likely to be assaulted, they are also more likely to feel that their universities won’t protect them and hold their rapists accountable.

Intimate partner violence is part of this problem. During their college years, nearly one out of ten students has experienced violence within a relationship.

Victims don’t report. Rates of reporting to campus officials and law enforcement are low, averaging well less than ten percent. Across the nine schools, 1.1% of sexual battery incidents and 4.2% of rape incidents were reported by the victim to any law enforcement agency. Interestingly enough, students were nearly twice as likely to report to a school official. Across all nine schools, one of the most common reasons for not reporting is that victims did not consider the violence experienced serious enough. At most schools, this includes over 50% of students who have been raped. Other reasons include feeling like you “might get in trouble” and because they were “concerned [they] would be treated poorly or get ineffective response.” Here’s the interesting thing though — and another case for strengthening non-carceral options for student survivors (i.e. Title IX): the more positive students’ perceptions of school leadership’s response to rape, the lower the rate of actual assault.

The educational impacts of campus rape are serious. Over 20% of surveyed victims think about transferring or dropping out of school. Rape affects over 30% of victims’ grades. And nearly 1 in 10 drop out of classes or change their course schedules as a result. This is why it is so important that schools respond to rape and gender violence: so that victims can access their education.

At the end of the day, none of this is new. Despite this mountain of evidence, people are still hung up on whether “1/4 of students are assaulted” means they were all raped or ya know, just sexually violated in some other way since other forms of assault are presumably just something we should shrug off. As Dana summed up in better words than I over at Broadly a few months ago,  “There’s a cultural obsession in this country to pick apart the 1-in 5 statistic…No number of studies, all confirming the 1-in-5, will ever be good enough for a particular segment of the American population, which insists that women lie, that justice is readily attainable, and that rape is an anomaly rather than an epidemic.”

Read the entire report here.

Header Image Credit: Roberto Farruggio for Know Your IX

Mahroh is a community organizer and law student who believes in building a world where black and brown women and our communities are able to live free of violence. Prior to law school, Mahroh was the Executive Director of Know Your IX, a national survivor- and youth-led organization empowering students to end gender violence and a junior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Her research addresses the ways militarization, racism, and sexual violence impact communities of color transnationally.

Mahroh is currently at Harvard Law School, organizing against state and gender-based violence.

Read more about Mahroh

Join the Conversation