Sexual assault under-reported at U

Jessica Kimpell

Most University students underestimate the number of sexual assaults on campus each year, according to a Minnesota Public Interest Research Group study released Thursday.
The report, “Sexual Harassment and Violence at College Campuses,” is based on 4,000 student surveys at nine different colleges across the state, including the University.
In the MPIRG study, less than half of University students estimated that more than 15 sexual assaults occur at the University each year. More than 20 percent said they had no idea.
Since Jan. 1, 87 reports of sexual violence have been made to University Police or the University’s Program Against Sexual Violence, according to those programs’ statistics.
But many more University incidences are not reported at all, said Marnie Goodfriend, co-leader of MPIRG’s Task Force Against Sexual Harassment and Violence.
“It is a big anonymous campus, and many instances do not get reported to the University Police,” she said.
Personal experiences with sexual harassment and violence varied between the genders, according to Thursday’s report. Almost 35 percent of female students surveyed have experienced one or more instances of unwanted deliberate touching, leaning over, cornering or pinching.
More than 8 percent of female students responded that they had experienced attempted sexual assault, and 5 percent stated that they had experienced actual rape or sexual assault.
“There is a myth in society that it is the woman’s fault if she is raped,” said Roberta Gibbons, Program Against Sexual Violence executive director. “Because women tend to blame themselves, they are hesitant to report the assault.”
But more than 23 percent of male students also reported that they had experienced unwanted advancements, 2.6 percent said they had experienced at least one attempted sexual assault and 1.7 percent reported they had experienced actual sexual assault or rape.
The study found that male students were most likely to be harassed based on their sexual orientation, with 16 percent reporting that they had experienced unwanted teasing or remarks because of their sexual orientation or perceived orientation.
“Not many studies have been done that look at the aspect of sexual-orientation harassment,” said Bill Droessler, MPIRG’s program director.
As a result of the study findings, MPIRG offered colleges four recommendations:
ù teaching first-year students about sexual harassment, sexual violence and sexual-orientation harassment, as well as training prevention techniques;
ù expanding administration, faculty and staff training regarding harassment;
ù establishing a campuswide task force to investigate harassment problems and create solutions to resolve problems; and
ù continuing research by college administrators about conduct that can lead to sexual harassment.
The University has already embraced many of MPIRG’s recommendations. However, Goodfriend said improvements can always be made.
But “taking precautions and implementing policies are complicated at the University because the campus is part of a larger city environment,” Goodfriend added.
The study was prompted by previous research indicating sexual-victimization rates are three times greater among college women than the general population. Spurred by this research, students on MPIRG’s state board submitted a study proposal, Goodfriend said.
“Sexual harassment and sexual violence are important issues that we felt needed to be addressed,” Goodfriend said.
The survey also questioned students about their beliefs and awareness about sexual harassment and assault. Students’ own experiences were also studied.
In general, most students said “touching is where they draw the line when it comes to sexual harassment,” Goodfriend said.
According to the report, many other students defined sexual harassment as “unwanted letters or phone calls of a sexual nature” and “unwanted pressure for sexual activity.”
Gibbons said she was pleased MPIRG conducted the study.
“Even though some of the statistics were under-representative of state and national figures because sexual assault was undefined in the questionnaire, sexual violence is an important issue,” Gibbons said. “This report calls attention to the problem and demonstrates that there is still a need for action.”

Jessica Kimpell welcomes comments at [email protected] She can also be reached at (612) 627- 4070 x3238.