University sexual assault trends mirror nationwide numbers

A national survey of more than 150,000 college students shows about 12 percent of students experience sexual assault.

by Christopher Aadland

About a quarter of female undergraduates at the University of Minnesota have experienced sexual assault or sexual misconduct while enrolled, according to the results of a national survey released Monday.
The survey — released by the Association of American Universities — measured student perception of sexual assault on college campuses using data from more than 150,000 undergraduate, graduate and professional students at 27 universities.
Overall, about 12 percent of students nationwide reported nonconsensual sexual contact by force, threat or incapacitation while enrolled at their institution. Twenty-eight percent or less of victims, depending on the school, reported the incident to campus officials or police.
At the University of Minnesota, where more than 8,000 students participated, responses were similar to the national aggregate.
“It is helpful to see that our local statistics mirror national epidemics,” said Joelle Stangler, president of the Minnesota Student Association, which has prioritized sexual assault prevention as one of its main initiatives. “That means that our focus on this is not misplaced.”
Barry Toiv, an AAU spokesman, said the survey is one of the largest and most comprehensive of its kind to date.
The almost 300-page report comes at a time when higher education institutions continue to grapple with sexual assault and sexual misconduct on campus. 
Campus administrators and lawmakers alike could find the data valuable as they craft new policies or legislation, Toiv said.
Last month, the University implemented a new affirmative consent policy that requires participants in sexual activity to obtain active signals from their partners — not just a lack of resistance or objections. The new policy had been in talks months earlier.
Katie Eichele, director of the University’s Aurora Center, said the results are useful but unsurprising.
“The numbers still say that one-in-four, one-in-five of students still experience sexual assault in college,” she said.
Rates of sexual assault and sexual misconduct are highest among female undergraduates and those who identify as transgender, genderqueer, nonconforming, questioning or something not listed on the survey.
At the University, students who reported having a disability are more than twice as likely to be victims of sexual assault or sexual misconduct compared to their peers.
The survey also found that a little over a third of University students know where to find help if they or a friend are the victim of sexual assault, and less than a quarter are knowledgeable about how the University defines sexual misconduct.
In an email sent to undergraduate students Monday, Stangler said moving forward, MSA will focus on informing students about the reporting process.
She said despite the survey results, the issue still needs to be fleshed out through ongoing conversations and additional campus evaluations.
 “A standalone survey gives you cosmetic information,” she said. “It doesn’t allow you to establish what you want to improve on.”