The estimate that one in five women is sexually assaulted while in college is cited as often as it is questioned.
Debate over the incidence of rape on campus often takes on a political overtone—those who want to enact stricter policies against schools and perpetrators often cite a higher rate than those who are against the policies.
But a new study offers fresh support for the "one in five" number.
Conducted by the Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation, the study polled 1,053 people across the country who attended college within the past four years. The institutions they attended included more than 500 schools—at least one in every state—and a variety of types.
Researchers asked respondents about their experiences with sexual assault and campus culture. Then, reporters followed up with more than 50 women and men who indicated that they had experienced an assault (or an attempted or suspected assault).
The results show that 20% of women and 5% of men experience sexual assault while in college.
Among survivors of sexual assault:
- Both women and men were more likely to be assaulted while incapacitated than by physical force;
- Nearly half knew their attacker "very well" or "fairly well;"
- Almost two-thirds say they were drinking alcohol right before the attack;
- Only 12% reported their attack to authorities; and
- 89% say no one was punished for the assault.
One of the most striking themes in the results is the consistent difference of opinion between men and women on sexual assault. Compared with women, men were less likely to:
- Say sexual assault and sexism are a problem on campus;
- Discuss sexual assault with friends;
- Agree with the "one in five" rate of sexual assault;
- Believe someone reporting sexual assault will be criticized; and
- Have offered assistance to someone they thought had been sexually assaulted.
In terms of how to address the issue, harsher punishments for offenders, bystander intervention training, and physical defense programs were all popular among students (Anderson/Clement, Washington Post, 6/12).
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