Women undergraduates are more than four times more likely to be sexually assaulted than men while in college, but are less likely to believe they'll be taken seriously if they report an assault.
On Monday, the Association of American Universities released the largest and most comprehensive look to date at sexual violence on college campuses. Responses came from more than 150,000 undergraduate, graduate and professional students at 27 schools, including the University of Minnesota, who took the Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct this spring.
"We hope the data our universities have collected in this survey will help guide their policies and practices as they work to address and prevent sexual assault and sexual misconduct on campus, and to ensure that reports of sexual assault and sexual misconduct are handled with care, compassion and a commitment to fair, prompt, and impartial review and resolution," AAU President Hunter Rawlings said in a release.
The results come while the issue is getting unprecedented attention, from a White House prevention campaign and new federal legislation to the advent of "Yes Means Yes" policies. The U instituted its own Yes Means Yes, or "affirmative consent," policy last month, and proposed legislation could require more Minnesota campuses to do the same.
The national survey was similar to the U's results, which found that about 23 percent of undergraduate women and 5 percent of undergraduate men on the Twin Cities campus had experienced "incidences of sexual assault and sexual misconduct by physical force, threats of physical force, or incapacitation."
U President Eric Kaler said in a statement that the survey is just a first step.
"We are intensely committed to continuing to track these numbers as we work with students, faculty and staff across all of our campuses to create an environment in which everyone can feel safe and all can succeed," he said.
Nationwide, most students who experienced a sexual assault or misconduct said they didn't report it to a campus official, law enforcement or other agency.
Reporting rates ranged from about 5 percent for unwanted sexual touching to nearly 30 percent for stalking.
Most students who didn't report said they didn't think the incident was serious enough to merit it. More than a third said they were "embarrassed, ashamed or that it would be too emotionally difficult." About the same number said they "did not think anything would be done about it."
The students most likely to experience an assault are the least likely to believe that a report is worth making. Of survey respondents, about 60 percent of women students and 40 percent of transgender and "gender nonconforming" students said they thought campus officials would take a report seriously, compared to about 70 percent of men. The transgender/nonconforming group was the most likely to be sexually assaulted, according to the survey.
For most undergraduates, that mistrust of campus officials likely comes from increased publicity of colleges and universities mishandling sexual assault cases, said Katie Eichele, director of the U's Aurora Center for Advocacy and Education.
"They've seen how the public conversation has turned out," she said.
Students are unlikely to step in to stop a potential assault, despite a heightened focus on "bystander intervention" — essentially, students taking prevention efforts into their own hands.
About 44 percent of respondents nationally said they'd witnessed a drunk person heading for a sexual encounter, but of those witnesses, only about a quarter intervened. At the U, the numbers are similar.
Joelle Stangler, the U's undergraduate student body president and an advocate for sexual assault prevention education, said she was struck by the fact that fewer than a quarter of students who didn't intervene said it was because they didn't know how. Most said they didn't step in for another, unspecified reason.
"That seems like something to be digging into a little bit further," she said.
Eichele agreed, but said that overall, there isn't much about the results that surprises her. In fact, she said, the lack of surprise is part of the problem.
"Since the early '80s … we know that about 1 in 5 women experience campus sexual assault while in college," she said. "And that number hasn't changed in 2015."