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Many Incidents of Sexual Assault at US Colleges Go Unreported

Brown University senior Maahika Srinivasan, center, of New Delhi, India, stands with senior Jeanette Sternberg Lamb, right, of Asheville, N.C., on the campus in Providence, R.I., where they organized a march to protest how the college handled recent sexua

Brown University senior Maahika Srinivasan, center, of New Delhi, India, stands with senior Jeanette Sternberg Lamb, right, of Asheville, N.C., on the campus in Providence, R.I., where they organized a march to protest how the college handled recent sexua

More than half of college students did not report incidents of sexual assault because they did not think it was "serious enough." Others said they were embarrassed or thought "nothing would be done."

That is part of the findings of a 2015 report from the Association of American Universities, or AAU. AAU is an organization that studies issues of higher education.

Researchers for the AAU asked more than 150,000 students at 27 universities to complete a survey about their experiences and attitudes towards sexual assault.

David Cantor is one of the authors of the report. He says AAU researches wanted to learn how big of a problem sexual assault is on college campuses.

"The main focus was to try to get an idea of how often sexual assault is happening and how many times are specific individuals actually victimized by different forms of sexual assault and sexual misconduct."

The study found over 23 percent of female undergraduate students had experienced a sexual assault or sexual misconduct. The study also found over 11 percent of all surveyed students, both male and female, had experienced a sexual assault or sexual misconduct.

In addition, the study found drugs and alcohol were often involved.

Not all colleges are the same, Cantor says. But at all 27 colleges, no more than 28 percent of incidents of forced sexual penetration were reported.

Understanding the problem

In 2014, the Bureau of Justice Statistics, a government agency that researches crime, conducted a study with the help of the research organization RTI International.

The Campus Climate Survey Validation Study involved anonymous interviews with 23,000 students at nine U.S. colleges and universities about the issue of sexual violence. The bureau then released the findings of the study in January.

Chris Krebs is a researcher with RTI International. Krebs says it is too early to say what causes one school to have more attacks than another.

"The reality is that a lot of schools don’t know much about the problem of sexual assault among their students. They know it exists and we know that the minority of assaults get reported to authorities on campus. But most schools don’t have survey data like those that we collected to inform their thinking or their policies and practices."

Krebs says responses from authorities can be part of the problem. The schools they studied where students thought poorly of the administration had higher rates of sexual assault.

Bonnie Fisher helped write the AAU report. She says that gathering information about sexual assault is important. But Fisher says that she wants to see students and school administrations working together to solve this problem.

Looking for solutions

Jennifer Schoewe, 21, studies finance at the University of Cincinnati, or UC, in Cincinnati, Ohio. Schoewe wanted to attend the school from a very early age. Her mother attended UC as well as her brother.

She says she loves the school to this day. But her life completely changed on August 22, 2015. At a party off campus, she was attacked. She did not know her attacker.

"There’s no going back for me. There’s no changing anything for me. I’m kind of just stuck living with it."

But Schoewe wants to prevent the same thing from happening to others. She then learned of a student group called "Not On My Campus." It started at the Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas in 2013. The group tried to get students to talk about the issue of sexual violence. Now there are similar groups at campuses across the country.

Schoewe started her own “Not On My Campus” group at UC with the help of her friend in the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity. They work with fraternities and sororities to get their members to sign a pledge to discuss and prevent assaults on campus.

Schoewe asks for more conversations about sexual violence, especially among men.

"The majority of men are not rapists. The majority of men will never rape … But … we need the male gender to speak up about it ... Because women can’t fight this on our own. We’re only half the population … Men hearing it from other men, I think, will help change minds and change behaviors."

Several schools across the country have also begun to employ Title IX enforcement officers. Title IX is a section of a group of laws from 1972 designed to prevent discrimination based on gender. The government now sees sexual violence as discrimination.

I’m Pete Musto.

Pete Musto reported and wrote this story for VOA for Learning English. Hai Do was the editor. Now it’s your turn. Do people openly discuss issues of sexual violence in your country? How do universities respond to incidents of sexual violence? Let us know in the comments section or on our Facebook page.


Words in This Story

incident(s) – n. an unexpected and usually unpleasant thing that happens

sexual assaultn. the crime of touching someone in an unwanted sexual way

embarrassedadj. to make someone feel confused and foolish in front of other people

surveyn. an activity in which many people are asked a question or a series of questions in order to gather information about what most people do or think about something

attitude(s) – n. the way you think and feel about someone or something

author(s) – n. a person who has written something

campus(es) – n. the area and buildings around a university, college or school

focusn. a subject that is being discussed or studied

victimizedv. to be treated cruelly or unfairly by someone

misconductn. behavior or activity that is illegal or morally wrong

undergraduateadj. a student at a college or university who has not yet earned a degree

penetrationn. the act of going through or into something

conduct(ed) – v. to plan and do something, such as an activity

anonymousadj. made or done by someone unknown

datan. facts or information used usually to calculate, analyze, or plan something

practice(s) – n. something that is done often or regularly

financen. the way in which money is used and handled

fraternityn. an organization of male students at a U.S. college

sororitiesn. organizations of female students at a U.S. college

pledgen. a serious promise or agreement

conversation(s) – n. the act of talking in an informal way

gender n. the state of being male or female

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