Study: Nearly 1 in 4 women at the U sexually assaulted

A newly-released survey says nearly 1 in 4 women at the University of Minnesota's Twin Cities campus have experienced sexual assault, a rate that has not changed much over the years.

The results released Monday by the Association of American Universities say 23.5 percent of undergraduate female respondents at the U's main campus have experienced sexual assault "by physical force, threats of physical force or incapacitation" compared to 23 percent nationwide.

Calling it an epidemic, Katie Eichele, director of the Aurora Center, the U of M's sexual assault advocacy and education center, said the survey confirms what studies have been saying for more than 30 years.

"If we had 1 in 4 women having mono at this rate, we would have a public health epidemic," said Eichele. "This is a phenomenally high number and the fact that it's been consistent since the '80s tells us as a society, we've been ignoring the problem."

More than 150,000 undergraduate and graduate students at 26 members of the Association of American Universities and one non-member participated in the survey during April and May. More than 8,000, or 16 percent, of U students participated.

The results say men are significantly less likely to experience assault with 5.2 percent of responding male undergraduates at the U saying they experienced sexual assault compared with the AAU's aggregate number of 5.5 percent.

Overall, 11.3 percent of all student respondents, both undergraduate and graduate, said they experienced nonconsensual sexual assault.

The results are in line with similar research done on the Twin Cities campus including the Boynton Health Service's Student Health Survey taken every three years. This year was the first time the University of Minnesota participated in the national survey.

"It doesn't matter how you ask the question, although that is important," Eichele said, "The reality is the results are very consistent in that about 20 to 25 percent of college women are saying 'yes, I've been sexually assaulted.'"

The AAU survey was a result of the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault and its "Not Alone" campaign of 2014. It joins other efforts at the University of Minnesota to prevent sexual assault.

The U rolled out a new affirmative consent policy at the start of this school year that redefines the "yes means yes" policy. It also clarifies that students under the influence of drugs or alcohol are incapable of giving consent.

With required online courses like financial literacy and alcohol risk, incoming freshmen have also been taking a class that addresses sexual assault, stalking, consent and bystander behavior for the past three years.

Despite those efforts, the survey revealed a number of students fear retaliation would occur if they reported sexual assault, with 20 percent believing it is extremely likely the alleged perpetrator or associate would retaliate against them in response to a report.

Students were also asked if they believe the campus would take their reports seriously, conduct a fair investigation and take action against the offender. Results revealed females are less likely than males to believe campus officials would take action with about a third believing school officials would take action.

Eichele said she hopes the results paint a clearer, more focused picture of the campus climate around sexual assault. She said the school needs to reach out to graduate students and make sure they understand reporting options.

"Especially if they're experiencing harassment from faculty or staff and there is a power dynamic because it's their adviser for their very specialized research or academic field," she said. "That can be really difficult to figure out what should I do or not do and what's at risk."

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