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Massive Survey Confirms Prevalence Of Sexual Assault On Campus


A new survey shows that 1 in 4 female students has been sexually assaulted while on campus. And this rate is even higher than previous researchers found. These results come from the largest survey to date of U.S. college students. NPR's Tovia Smith reports that it's also the first study to enable broad school-by-school comparisons. And it gives more detail about alleged assaults.

TOVIA SMITH, BYLINE: The survey by the Association of American Universities covers more than 150,000 students at more than two dozen colleges, from big state schools to the Ivies. On average, 23 percent of undergraduate women say they were, in some way, sexually assaulted during their time on campus. But the rate ranges from 13 percent at some schools to over 30 at others. A few prominent schools showed some of the biggest problems. At Harvard, for example, 26 percent of undergraduate women said they were victimized - among just senior women, 31 percent. Harvard president Drew Faust today called that deeply disturbing, a sentiment echoed by many.

JEN ZHU: That's mind-blowing. That means all of us know somebody who's been sexually assaulted.

SMITH: Jen Zhu, a student activist before she graduated last year, says the lack of progress is disappointing, especially looking at the low numbers of students who tell their school they were assaulted. More than 10 percent of students said they experienced the most extreme assault - penetration by physical force. But even in those cases, just over 25 percent reported it. When you look at cases of unwanted kissing or touching or when you look at students who were drunk and incapacitated, the number who reported plummets to 7 percent. Zhu says it shows how much more attitudes need to change.

ZHU: Students also feel uncertain about that, and they didn't report it 'cause they felt like it wasn't a big enough deal.

SMITH: The survey is one of the first to specifically count cases that lack affirmative consent, for example, as the survey puts it, when someone, quote, "went ahead without checking in or while you were still deciding." Sofie Karasek, with End Rape on Campus, hopes it will fuel the push for affirmative consent policies on more campuses.

SOFIE KARASEK: There's been a lot of backlash, people saying that, oh, well, that's just going to take all of the fun out of sex. And this data is strong evidence that that needs to change.

SMITH: Researchers say just under 19 percent of students responded to the survey. They say the self-selected group may make the problem appear a little more common than it is, but they say not by much. Tovia Smith, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tovia Smith is an award-winning NPR National Correspondent based in Boston, who's spent more than three decades covering news around New England and beyond.