College is supposed to be a time for personal and intellectual growth, but for too many students, it’s also a place where they will be sexually assaulted.
This week, America Tonight will air a series of reports investigating campus assault, culminating in a live town hall program on Friday, Nov. 1. (Watch a preview above.)
To better understand the prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses, its perpetrators and the key factors involved, we drew from existing research, studies and polls to see how the data on campus assault breaks down. Bear in mind, as you look at these numbers, that sexual assault remains one of the most underreported crimes in America.
20 to 25 percent of college women experience rape or attempted rape
In a given calendar year, nearly one in 20 U.S. college women will be the victim of a completed or attempted rape, according to “The Sexual Victimization of College Women,” a 2000 Justice Department report. During the course of a typical five-year college career, that means as many as 20 to 25 percent can become rape victims.
About one in three gay men, one in five bisexual men and one in 10 heterosexual men reported experiencing unwanted sexual contact during their lifetime, according to the 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"There is also far less research done surrounding sexual violence within male and LGBTQ-identified communities," this toolkit from the Chicago Taskforce on Violence Against Girls & Young Women explains. "Lack of research paired with cultural stigmas create a culture that does not support survivors to report their assault and in turn, does not provide adequate resources to them."
Students who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer, or who are women of color, immigrants, international students or have a disability may also face a higher risk of sexual abuse -- but just how much more risk is tough to say.
9.6 percent of women in a survey of black colleges reported being sexually assaulted
Nearly 10 percent of women at historically black colleges and universities (HBCU) reported in the fall 2008 Historically Black College and University Campus Sexual Assault Study of 3,951 undergraduates being the victim of a completed sexual assault since entering college.
“Incapacitated sexual assault (6.2%) was slightly more prevalent than physically forced sexual assault (4.8%),” the survey results noted. “[I]t seems that the rates of sexual assault are slightly lower among HBCU women than among their non-HBCU counterparts: a previous study using the same methodology found that 13.7% of non-HBCU undergraduate women experience a completed sexual assault after entering college.” Why the difference? It “seems to be driven entirely by a difference in the rate of incapacitated sexual assault, which is likely explained by the fact that HBCU women drink alcohol much less frequently than non-HBCU women.”
Beyond the scope of the HBCU college women survey, a 2009 Justice Department report notes that black females ages 12 and older were raped or sexually assaulted at a rate of 2.9 per 1,000 in 2008, compared to 1.2 for females who are white and 0.9 for females of another race. The rates were similar for Hispanic (1.1) and non-Hispanic women (1.5).
Between 80 and 90% of sexual assaults at colleges involve acquaintances, not strangers
The 2005 report “Sexual Assault on Campus: What Colleges and Universities Are Doing About It” sums up the scope of the acquaintance rape problem:
“Counter to widespread stranger rape myths, in the vast majority of these crimes—between 80 and 90 percent—victim and assailant know each other. In fact, the more intimate the relationship, the more likely it is for rape to be completed rather than attempted. Half of all student victims do not label the incident ‘rape.’ This is particularly true when no weapon was used, no sign of physical injury is evident, and alcohol was involved—factors commonly associated with campus acquaintance rape. Given the extent of non-stranger rape on campus, it is no surprise that the majority of victimized women do not define their experience as a rape.
“These reasons help explain why campus sexual assault is not well reported.”
9 in 10 rapes on college campuses are perpetrated by serial rapists
This is according to a 20-year study of “undetected” rapists by psychologist David Lisak. One in 16 college men that he interviewed said that that they had used physical force to have sexual intercourse or had sex with someone who was too incapacitated by alcohol or drugs to resist.
Only 10 to 25 percent of male college rapists were expelled
According to a database from about 130 colleges and universities that was highlighted in reporting by the Center for Public Integrity and NPR News, men who are responsible for sexual assault are rarely expelled.
Students who live in sorority houses are more likely to be raped than off-campus students
Women who live in a sorority house are three times as likely to be raped compared to students who live off campus, according to a 2004 report in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol. The report also found that students who live in dorms on campus are 1.4 times more likely to be raped than off-campus students.
Freshmen and sophomores face the most sexual assault
Of college women who reported a sexually coercive experience, 84 percent said it occurred when they were a freshman or sophomore, according to the 2006 report "An Examination of Sexual Violence Against College Women."
Nearly three-quarters of college female rape victims were intoxicated
A 2004 report in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol found that 72 percent of college rape victims were so intoxicated that they could not consent to sex. The study found that students who were under 21, white, used illegal drugs, drank heavily in high school and went to colleges with high rates of heavy episodic drinking also faced higher risk of rape while intoxicated.
More than a third of college rapes happen on campus
A 2002 Justice Department report “Acquaintance Rape of College Students” found that 34 percent of completed rapes and 45 percent of attempted rapes occur on campus.
Nearly 3 in 5 completed campus rapes happen where the victim lives
The "Acquaintance Rape of College Students" study also found that around 31 percent of rapes happen in a residence other than the victim's. Ten percent occur in a fraternity house.
Fewer than 1 in 20 completed and attempted rapes against college women are reported
Less than 5 percent of completed and attempted rapes are reported to law enforcement or campus officials, according to 2000 “Sexual Victimization of College Women” study. In the DOJ acquaintance rape study, more than 40 percent of rape victims who didn’t report their attack said they feared reprisal by the attacker or other people. Underreporting sexual assault is a problem at U.S. military academies as well.
Of the two-thirds of rape incidents in which a victim does tell another person, it’s usually a friend – not a college official or family member, according to the “Sexual Victimization of College Women” study.
And as this toolkit from the Chicago Taskforce on Violence Against Girls & Young Women explains, there can be many reasons why the crime is so underreported: a survivor may not want to share details with a researcher he or she just met, he or she may be in a long-term abusive relationship or may not have a stable home and so on.
Check out America Tonight's special coverage about sexual assault on campus.