In the world of higher education, sexual assault is a legal minefield. Alleged victims and accused rapists alike claim their colleges botch cases – charging breach of contract, negligence, discrimination, defamation and due process violations – and in numbers like never before.
For United Educators, which offers liability insurance to schools, student-on-student sexual assault represents the third-costliest category of claims, behind employment practices and slips, trips and falls.
Last month, the company released an analysis of all the sexual assault reports at its client colleges from 2011 to 2013, excluding ones that involved faculty. The final data set was 305 cases from 104 colleges and universities. (See its last report on campus sexual assault here.) And unlike most campus assault surveys that are based on self-reports, UE has information on both the alleged victims and the men they accused (99 percent of perpetrators in the study are men) and how the schools responded. It's the kind of study only an insurance company could do.
Here are nine of UE's conclusions that jumped out from the report:
Athletes are more likely to gang rape
College athletes aren't accused more often of rape, according to this data. They represent 15 percent of accused perpetrators in the study, roughly their slice of the student population, according to UE. But they made up 40 percent of multiple-perpetrator attacks reported to schools. In other words, athletes were almost three times as likely to be involved in gang assault. The report points to a "culture that promotes hyper-masculinity, sexual aggression and excessive alcohol consumption." In all, 10 percent of the sexual assault reports UE examined involved more than one perpetrator. But this could be an overrepresentation of their actual proportion on campus, as alleged victims may be more inclined to report these kinds of attacks.
Fraternity members are more likely to serial offend
Like athletes, fraternity members weren't more likely to be accused of sexual assault, according to this analysis. Fraternity members made up 10 percent of accused perpetrators in the study, approximately the same percentage of college men who go Greek. But they made up 24 percent of repeat perpetrators. (Athletes made up another 20 percent.) All in all, 1 in 5 alleged assailants in the study were repeat offenders.
Drinking increases a man's likelihood of raping
Alleged perpetrators, like alleged victims, were drinking in a majority of incidents analyzed. In 11 percent of "physical force" assaults, the perpetrator was drinking and the victim was not. That was also true for 7 percent of "failed consent" cases, where the man is accused of inferring consent from silence or lack of resistance.
According to UE, this suggests that drinking enables some students "to more easily use force to obtain sex when their partner refuses" and "contributes to misinterpreting sexual interest or ignoring their partner's hesitation."
It's not a campus assault problem; it's an underclassman assault problem
It's well-known that freshman girls are the most vulnerable to sexual assault; their first few weeks on campus are grimly dubbed "the red zone." But the numbers are staggering. More than half of alleged victims in these reports were freshmen; adding in sophomores brings the total close to three quarters. And of reported gang assaults, freshmen accounted for 88 percent of the alleged victims.
Many didn't call it rape
Some sexual assault studies, such as 2007's government-backed Campus Sexual Assault study, which produced the famous statistic that 1 in 5 women are sexually assaulted in college, have been criticized for avoiding the terms "sexual assault" or "rape" in their survey questions and using the legal definitions instead, turning droves of young women into statistical "victims" who never considered themselves victims at all.
Every study that's looked at this point has found that college women who've been legally raped often don't label what happened to them as rape. This fact is damning, infuriating or dismaying, depending on whom you ask. In the UE report, 4 in 10 alleged victims delayed reporting to their schools an average of 11 months; most of these students only labeled their experience sexual assault after talking to friends or attending a training session. A good portion of their alleged perpetrators likely didn't consider it sexual assault either, according to other research.
Colleges clear the perpetrators in 36 percent of decisions
Under the Title IX federal civil rights statute, schools are required to use a "preponderance of the evidence" standard in their adjudications, or "more likely than not" – a far lower standard than beyond a reasonable doubt. Still, in UE's sample, more than one-third of alleged victims don't persuade their college's disciplinary board.
This suggests that drinking enables some students 'to more easily use force to obtain sex when their partner refuses,' according to UE.
Assuming (safely) that more than one-third of alleged victims did not concoct allegations, this means many women were either treated unfairly, or there wasn't enough evidence to tip the scale against the accused. UE emphasizes the point:
"[Colleges and universities] respond to cases of sexual assault that the criminal justice system often considers too difficult to succeed at trial and obtain a conviction... involv[ing] little or no forensic evidence, delays in reporting, use of alcohol, and differing accounts of consent."
Of students found responsible, 43 percent are expelled
A string of media reports have highlighted what are seen as extremely light sanctions for some alleged rapists, like writing a book report or watching an educational video. But the insurance company study suggests this isn't commonplace. Of men found responsible for sexual assault, 82 percent were suspended or expelled. On the flipside, 18 percent of men found responsible for an assault were allowed to continue their studies uninterrupted and 57 percent were allowed to graduate.
Alleged perpetrators file more lawsuits than alleged victims
Of the cases analyzed by UE, alleged perpetrators filed 50 percent more lawsuits than alleged victims. The specter of alleged offender lawsuits has made some schools squeamish about finding men responsible and sanctioning them. In the harshest calculus, some schools may consider it cheaper to hurt the alleged victim. But in UE's numbers, that math doesn't work, at least not anymore.
Alleged victims are more of an insurance liability
Litigation brought by victims accounted for a whopping 84 percent, or $14.3 million, of the total payouts in this study. How is this possible? It could be that victims' lawsuits see greater payouts. (UE wouldn't break down that data.) But it's also thanks to students filing Title IX complaints with the federal government. Schools faced more Title IX complaints than perpetrator and victim lawsuits combined, UE found, and all of them were brought by victims. Across the country, close to 100 colleges and universities are under federal investigation for Title IX sexual violence issues.
A school has never lost its federal funding for violating Title IX (the most severe theoretical punishment), but that doesn't mean the costs of a Title IX complaint aren't real. There are lawyers to pay along with the cost of reforms prescribed by the government. Plus, there are damages UE doesn't tally: administrators' time, crisis PR teams, drops in alumni donations and high schoolers deciding not to apply.
"Women have leveraged very low cost ways to get administrators to pay attention," according to Brett Sokolow, the CEO of the National Center for Higher Education Risk Management, who's been helping colleges grapple with campus assault for 15-plus years. "It's very clever. And it's very costly."