Survey: More Than 20 Percent of Female Undergrads at Top Schools Are Victims of Sexual Misconduct

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Last spring, students at 27 different American universities participated in an independent survey meant to examine the sexual-assault climate on campus. Today the Association of American Universities published the study's findings, and they're about as upsetting as you might expect: 11.7 percent of the total students surveyed said they'd experienced some form of nonconsensual sexual contact since starting school. Undergraduate women were the biggest targets, with more than 20 percent of the female undergrads surveyed at all 27 universities saying they'd been victims of sexual attacks.

The survey was administered to over 150,000 students and is one of the largest of its kind, providing important insight into the sexual-assault climate on many of the country's most prestigious campuses, including Yale, Harvard, Columbia, Brown, and Dartmouth. (You can read the results of the survey broken down by school here.)

The frequency of the incidents varied widely by school: 13 percent of female California Institute of Technology undergrads reported being the victims of nonconsensual sexual contact, while 30 percent of University of Michigan undergrads reported the same. At Harvard, 31 percent of female seniors who took the survey said they experienced some form of "nonconsensual sexual contact" while attending the university; 16 percent said they experienced nonconsensual penetration or attempted penetration. In an email sent to faculty and students, Harvard president Drew Faust called the results "deeply disturbing."

It's worth pointing out that these results could be inflated; researchers admitted that those who agreed to take the survey were more likely to have experienced an assault than those who ignored it. Still, the findings are in line with other large surveys about campus sexual assault. Experts are hoping the results from this study can help schools better understand the needs of their students, and adjust sexual-assault policies to address those needs.

"We hope the data our universities have collected in this survey will help guide their policies and practices as they work to address and prevent sexual assault and sexual misconduct on campus," AAU president Hunter Rawlings said in a release, "and to ensure that reports of sexual assault and sexual misconduct are handled with care, compassion, and a commitment to fair, prompt, and impartial review and resolution."