New survey finds 21 percent of female students have been sexually assaulted in college

Caleb Wong

About 21 percent of female undergraduates have experienced sexual assault since starting college, according to a recent survey of nine college campuses.

The survey, commissioned by a White House task force on sexual assault, found rates of sexual assault ranged from 4 percent to 20 percent on the campuses surveyed and that seven percent of male undergraduates have experienced sexual assault since starting college. The results, released in January, were consistent with previous survey results on sexual assault.

This survey can be broadly compared to the American Association of America survey released in the fall semester, which found around 23 percent of female undergraduates have experienced sexual assault since starting college, compared to 18.5 percent of UT Austin female undergraduates.

Erin Burrows, outreach and prevention specialist of Voices Against Violence, said survey results like these, especially when they are repeated, help convince people sexual assault is an alarming problem.

“We use the data by convincing people that what we’re talking about is not hypothetical, but that it’s real,” Burrows said. “They help us to convince people who aren’t right there in believing that this is an issue on our campus.”

The Department of Education has taken notice of sexual assault surveys in recent years. In 2011, the department sent a “Dear Colleague” letter to higher education institutions stating that they must follow Title IX regulations on issues of sexual assault to continue receiving federal funding. Title IX, a 2004 gender equality law, has been more strictly enforced in recent years in order to battle sexual assault rates.

LaToya Hill, director of Title IX compliance, said no matter the outcome of sexual assault investigations, UT is responsible for helping students affected by sexual violence by providing accomodations for survivors. UT has hired six Title IX investigators to address gender equity issues such as sexual assault, Hill said.

“The university has the jurisdiction and the authority to respond to any sexual assault that occurs between two UT affiliated individuals anywhere in the world,” Hill said. “We are ultimately responsible for remedying the environment.”

The results of the White House task force survey also indicated that more female than male students have a low amount of confidence in the institutional handling of sexual assault. Burrows said these results and the disproportionate sexual assault rates among women result from distorted cultural power norms.  

“When you zoom out a little bit and you look at gender-based dynamics, you can see that we live in a world that in some ways sets men up to be perpetrators and sets women up to experience sexual violence,” Burrows said. “It’s about power and control, and these historical systems of who has had more power.”

The survey results also indicate that more students who identified as sexual minorities had low levels of confidence in their universities regarding the handling of sexual assault, compared to heterosexual students. Grace Gilker, director of the Women’s Resource Agency, said this problem affects some of her constituents more than others.

“I would definitely say that the LGBT community has a very specific dog in this fight just because they are more acutely affected,” Gilker said. “I think what we can be doing as a campus is to bring more attention to that specific problem.”