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A new study has found that 18.6 percent of women at a university in upstate New York who started there in 2010 experienced either rape or attempted rape in their freshman year. The study has just been published in The Journal of Adolescent Health. Numerous studies on campus sexual assault -- with varying definitions of sexual assault -- have prompted much debate over how prevalent rape and sexual assault are on campus. This study used a narrow definition of rape as “vaginal, oral or anal penetration using threats of violence or use of physical force, or using the tactic of victim incapacitation.” Critics of some other studies have cited broader definitions -- including unwanted advances or verbal abuse -- as inappropriately conflating different kinds of sexual misconduct.

Over the year in which students were surveyed, 9 percent of surveyed women reported an attempted or completed forcible rape and 15.4 percent reported an attempted or completed rape while incapacitated. (Some women reported more than one kind of rape.)

Kate Carey, professor of behavioral and social sciences in the Brown University School of Public Health and Brown's Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies, and one of the authors, said the research pointed to the need to focus on freshman year. “People are usually moving away from home for the first time, they are experimenting with a lot of freedoms including the use of alcohol and other drugs and learning how to live by themselves,” she said. “We have a better sense after our research of what are the risks within that first transition year.”