Sexual Assault on College Campuses

It may surprise you to know that sexual assault is a big problem on college campuses. While it makes the news on occasion, it is not really something that most of us discuss a lot. However, it has become such a problem for colleges across the country that in April 2015 the Association of American Universities (AAU) conducted a study in the 27 colleges that comprise the organization and the findings are astonishing.

Overall Findings

Many of these schools are Ivy League which makes the statistics even more startling – Harvard, Yale, Columbia, and Brown to name a few.

  • More than 20 percent of female undergraduates at these schools said they were victims of sexual assault and misconduct.
  • 23 percent of female undergraduates and 5 percent of male undergraduates said they were victims of non-consensual sexual contact due to force or incapacitation. The contact ranged from penetration to sexual touching.
  • 11 percent of female undergraduates said they were victims of non-consensual penetration or attempted penetration.
  • 0 percent of both male and female students said sexual assault and misconduct is very or extremely problematic on their own campus.
  • About 60 percent of surveyed students said they did not report incidents because:
  • They did not think anything would be done about it (48%)
  • They feared the report would not be kept confidential (16%)
  • There are other forms of sexual misconduct that were addressed in the survey including: harassment, stalking, and intimate partner violence.
  • More than half of students indicated they were victims of harassment, which included offensive comments or jokes, inappropriate observations about bodies, and social media that contained offensive words or images
  • The number rose to 71 percent for undergraduate women
  • Male undergraduates and female graduates and medical students averaged around 50 percent
  • Male graduate and medical students were around 30 percent
  • TGQN (transgender, genderqueer or nonconforming, questioning, or not listed) students reported sexual harassment in higher percentages

Student Responses

Using Brown University as an example, 70 percent of all student respondents reported they were very or extremely confident that other students would support a victim reporting sexual assault or misconduct. However, students who identified as TGQN reported far less confidence.

Students reported that they were aware of:

  • Counseling services provided by the school (81 percent)
  • Sexual Assault Response Line (59 percent)
  • 70 percent said they were knowledgeable about where to get help for a student or friend who needed it.

These students were less confident in campus officials, however.

  • Less than half of Brown students said it was very or extremely likely that an individual’s safety would be supported
  • Just over a quarter of the students thought it was very or extremely likely that there would be a fair investigation
  • Only 24 percent said it was very or extremely likely that officials would take action against the offender

Safety First

Are students safe at universities? After reading the results of this survey it appears they are not. So what does this say about today’s universities? How do schools keep students safe? How do they address sexual assaults? Things have to change. This societal problem needs to be addressed now.


Positive Change

Brown University announced a new sexual assault policy and new procedures. They also hired professional, trained investigators to resolve accusations in a timely manner. Brown also established a new Title IX Office. This office is a place for education and training, and will hear and resolve complaints of sexual violence, harassment, and other violations of the new policy.

A new complaint process is a response to student concerns at Brown about the school’s former investigation and hearing process. In addition, the university started a sexual assault training module for incoming first-year students, with training for faculty and staff, too. Other universities need to look at their current programs, reassess, and make improvements where necessary to ensure the safety of all students on campuses across the nation.