AUSTIN, Texas — A survey of sexual assault and misconduct at 27 university campuses across the nation shows that 23.1 percent of female undergraduates at the universities surveyed, and 18.5 percent of female undergraduates at The University of Texas at Austin, reported being the victim of sexual assault by force or incapacitation since the time of their enrollment.
Among male undergraduates, 5.4 percent nationwide and 5 percent at UT Austin reported similar victimization.
The Association of American Universities (AAU) surveyed more than 150,000 students at 27 participating universities for its Campus Climate Survey, including more than 6,600 students at UT Austin.
The survey looked at a variety of issues related to sexual assault and misconduct including campus climate, student awareness of resources to prevent and respond to assault, the frequency and nature of assaults, misconduct resulting from coercion and the absence of consent, and incidence of sexual harassment, partner violence and stalking.
“One sexual assault is too many,” said Gregory L. Fenves, president of The University of Texas at Austin. “It is essential that we foster a campus that does not tolerate sexual assaults while strongly encouraging victims to come forward and report incidents. This survey is another positive step in our efforts to create a safer campus for all of our students.”
Key findings nationwide and for UT Austin include:
- 11.8 percent of female undergraduates nationwide and 5.5 percent at UT Austin reported victimization due to coercion or absence of affirmative consent.
- 47.7 percent of all students nationwide and 45.3 percent at UT Austin indicated they have been victims of sexual harassment.
- Consistent with other national surveys, rates of assault and misconduct against women were much higher than against men.
- At UT Austin, the undergraduate perception that it was “very likely” or “extremely likely” to experience sexual assault or sexual misconduct off campus (14.7 percent) was nearly twice as high as on campus (7.6 percent).
The incidence of sexual assault by force or incapacitation, which is defined as inability to give consent or control one’s own behavior and is one of the standard measures of sexual assault, places UT Austin in the third of schools with the lowest prevalence of sexual assaults among the campuses surveyed.
“The AAU survey gives us a good benchmark for looking forward,” added Noël Busch-Armendariz, director of UT Austin’s Institute on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault. Busch-Armendariz is currently leading an effort by the University of Texas System to conduct a comprehensive four-year study of sexual assault at all of the system’s campuses.
“The AAU survey will positively inform our work as we prepare to implement a longitudinal study across 13 UT System institutions.”
Busch-Armendariz recently completed a statewide assessment of sexual assault in Texas that found similar results, suggesting that sexual assault is a crime affecting both genders and that society should be particularly concerned about the vulnerability of college-age women.
According to the AAU survey, 63.3 percent of students nationwide and 61.9 percent at UT Austin think that a report of sexual assault or sexual misconduct would be taken seriously by campus officials. At UT Austin, 47.4 percent of students consider it very or extremely likely that campus officials would conduct a fair investigation, compared with 49.2 percent nationally.
Fifty-six percent nationwide and 54.2 percent of UT Austin respondents said it was very or extremely likely that the safety of those reporting incidents of sexual assault and sexual misconduct would be protected by university officials.
“This survey offers a wealth of information that we can use in our ongoing efforts to support survivors and create a safer campus,” said LaToya Hill, UT Austin’s associate vice president and Title IX coordinator. “Data on student perceptions of services, for example, will help us find the best ways to increase campus awareness while encouraging survivors to report incidents.”
UT Austin pursues a number of initiatives to raise awareness of sexual assault, support victims and encourage reporting. BeVocal, UT Austin’s bystander intervention initiative, teaches students to recognize and respond to potentially harmful situations. Many other services are anchored in Voices Against Violence, a nationally recognized program that provides counseling, conducts advertising campaigns and outreach, and works at freshman orientation to teach incoming students about consent.
Despite outreach efforts, however, rates of reporting sexual assault to campus administrators or police are low both at UT Austin and nationwide, according to the survey. At UT Austin, for example, only 25.5 percent of female victims of sexual assault involving force or incapacitation reported the incident to authorities, which is consistent with national numbers.
When students nationwide were asked why they did not report incidents of sexual assault and sexual misconduct, the most common reason was that it was not considered serious enough. Other reasons included because they were “embarrassed, ashamed or that it would be too emotionally difficult,” and because they “did not think anything would be done about it.”
“At UT Austin,” said Fenves, “we want victims to report and to know that their university supports them.”