More than 22 percent of female undergraduate students responding to a survey at the University of Michigan say they have experienced some type of sexual assault, the university announced Wednesday. The findings echo that of the often cited, though also often criticized, 2007 study that concluded one in five female students were sexually assaulted while in college. A new national survey released by The Washington Post last week also reached the same conclusion.
The Michigan survey asked students about sexual misconduct, broadly defining it as "nonconsensual (also known as unwanted), kissing and touching, oral, vaginal or anal penetration" stemming from coercion, intoxication or use of force. But it also asked students about sexual assault specifically involving penetration, a distinction often made by critics when challenging the results of sexual assault surveys. About 12 percent of female undergraduate students -- and 9.7 percent of all female students -- said they had experienced "nonconsensual sexual penetration" in the previous 12 months.
In all, 11.4 percent of Michigan students in the survey said they experienced some form of nonconsensual sexual behavior in the past year. Among male students, 7.6 percent of undergraduates said they had experienced a nonconsensual sexual act.
Fraternity and sorority members are 2.5 times more likely to be victims of "nonconsensual sexual penetration" than non-Greek students, the survey found, and minority students' risk is also higher. The survey also revealed a gap in awareness between male and female students regarding the university's sexual assault policies and resources. More than 90 percent of male undergraduate students said they were aware that Michigan has a sexual misconduct policy, but only 84 percent of female students said the same. Nearly half of male students said they know where to find that policy, compared to only 30 percent of female students.
When the survey -- along with a separate survey created by the Association of American Universities -- was conducted in the spring, some students said its questions were too explicit and could trigger harmful memories in sexual assault victims. The university defended the questions at the time, as did several researchers who study sexual violence. Despite the criticism, the survey had a 67 percent response rate, which is higher than most online surveys.
"Having good data is important," Mark Schlissel, Michigan's president, said in a statement. "The more we know about our own community, the more we can spread awareness of the issues we face and the better we are able to focus our programs to be successful."
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