Facts About College Sexual Assault

Over here in SAFER-world we are all scrambling around and going a tad batty—we have big deadlines and excitement approaching! As part of these projects (more about them soon!) I’ve been searching through a lot of our old material, most of which I’ve seen before but some of which I haven’t looked at since I started working with SAFER in 2008. In that category is a compendium of facts about college sexual assault that still shocks me every time I see it. For the sake of reminding folks why we do what we do, and maybe pointing out some things you didn’t know already, here are the facts:

“Rape is the most common violent crime committed on college campuses.”[1]

The National Crime Victimization Survey found that about 3% of college women are raped each academic year,[2] usually by someone they know. The National College Women Sexual Victimization study estimates about 20 to 25% of college women are victims of sexual assault or attempted sexual assault during their college years.[3]

College students, because of their age, are a group at high risk for sexual assault, and some researchers believe that college women are more vulnerable than their nonstudent peers.[4] The National Crime Victimization Survey found no statistical differences in rape and sexual assault rates between women at college and women of the same age who are not students.[5] The finding of higher risk is based on the National College Women Sexual Victimization survey, which used a different methodology.[6]

“Women ages 16 to 24 experience rape at rates four times higher than the assault rate of all women,”[7] making the college (and high school) years the most vulnerable forwomen.[8]

About 9 in 10 college women who are victims of rape or attempted rape know their assailant.[9]

Less is known about the sexual assault of men, but research suggests that up to 10 percent of campus acquaintance rape victims are men, usually raped by other men.[10]

The first few weeks of the first and second years of college is the period when college students are most at risk of being sexually assaulted.[11]

Only one in five of female college rape victims reported sustaining additional injuries, most often bruises, black eyes, cuts, swelling or chipped teeth.[12]

Nearly 70% percent of female victims of attempted rape and 55% of female victims of rape reported using physical force against their assailant to protect themselves. Most also told the person to stop.[13]

34% percent of rapes and 45% of attempted rapes of college women take place on campus. Almost 60% of the rapes that take place on campus occur in the victim’s residence, 31% occur in another residence, and 10% occur in a fraternity.[14]

Private colleges and major universities have higher rates than the national average, while religiously affiliated institutions have lower than average rates.[15] Students at two-year institutions (15.6%) were more likely than those at four-year institutions (11.1%)
to report they had been forced during their lifetime to have sexual intercourse.

College women fear stranger rape more than acquaintance rape, and do more to protect themselves from it, though acquaintance rape is much more prevalent.[17]

In a 1985 survey of 6,159 students from 32 colleges and universities, one out of every 15 male students admitted they had raped, or tried to rape, a female student during thepreceding year.[18]

In studies in the early 1980s and 1990s, approximately one-third of college men reported they would rape a woman if they knew they would not get caught.[19]

We do not know how many college rapists repeat their crime, since most go
unpunished. Koss et al.’s survey found 187 rapes to have been committed by 96 men.


Survivors of sexual assault often suffer academic difficulties and are more likely to leave school.[21]

40% of victims acquire a sexually transmitted disease as a result of rape.[22]

80% of victims suffer chronic physical or mental health problems.[23]


Campus sexual assault is hugely underreported to authorities, with fewer than 5 percent of college women who are victims of rape or attempted rape reporting it to police.[24] Part of the problem is that many survivors do not call their experience rape, though it meets the legal criteria,[25] but colleges also often encourage victim-blaming through prevention programs that focus exclusively on risk-reduction behavior by potential victims (such as avoiding alcohol, going out in groups or carrying a whistle).[26] Drug and alcohol abuse policies that do not include some immunity for victims of sexual assault can also hinder reporting.[27] Not having access to confidential or anonymous reporting also reduces the number of victims who will come forward, as will a belief
that the assailant will not be punished.
[28] Fear of reprisal by the assailant or others also prevents victims from reporting, as does fear of going through the legal process.[29]

Only half of the schools included in a recent survey provided the option of anonymous reporting. Less than half tell students how they can file criminal charges.[30]

The law

Schools are required by federal law to have and to disseminate a written sexual assault policy that addresses prevention of sex offenses and informs students of their rights and services available to them, should they be assaulted.

Federal legislation requiring reporting of crime statistics and mandating certain campus policies was a step forward, but a recent study found only 37% of campuses’ reports were fully compliant with the law.[31]

Security on Campus argues that Title IX requires colleges to eliminate the hostile environment caused by campus sexual assault.[32] Finn (1995) also argues that a college can be held liable for not protecting students against a foreseeable crime, such as
acquaintance rape.

Footnotes are after the cut

[1] P. Finn (1995). Preventing Alcohol-Related Problems on Campus: Acquaintance Rape–A Guide for Program Coordinators. Newton, Mass.: Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention. www.edc.org/hec/pubs/acqrape.html.

[2] National Crime Victimization Survey 1995-2000: Violent Victimization of College Students (2003), Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report, December 2003 (NCJ 196143).

[3] Bonnie Fisher, Francis Cullen, and Michael Turner, (2000) The Sexual Victimization of College Women. Washington, DC: National Institute of Justice and Bureau of Justice Statistics. (NCJ 182369)

[4] Heather Karjane, Bonnie Fisher, and Francis Cullen, (2005) Sexual Assault on Campus: What Colleges and Universities Are Doing About It. Washington, DC: National Institute of Justice.

[5] National Crime Victimization Survey (2003)

[6] Bonnie Fisher, Francis Cullen, and Michael Turner, (1999) “Extent and Nature of the Sexual Victimization of College Women: A National Level Analysis,” final report
to the National Institute of Justice, Dec. 1999 (NCJ 179977): 1–2.

[7] S. Humphrey and A. Kahn (2000), “Fraternities, Athletic Teams and Rape: Importance of Identification with a Risky Group.” Journal of Interpersonal Violence 15(12): 1313–1322.

[8] Sampson, Rana. (2002) Acquaintance Rape of College Students.

[9] Fisher, Francis and Turner (2000)

[10] D. Benson, C. Charton and F. Goodhart (1992). “Acquaintance Rape on Campus: A Literature Review.” Journal of American College Health 40:157–165.

[11] C. Ostrander, and J. Schwartz (1994). Crime at College: The Student Guide to Personal Safety. Ithaca (New York): New Strategist Publications.? M. Schwartz, and W. DeKeseredy(1997). Sexual Assault on the College Campus: The Role of Male Peer Support. Thousand Oaks (California): Sage Publications.

[12] Fisher, Cullen and Turner (2000)

[13] Ibid

[14] Ibid

[15] Sanday, P. (1996). “Rape-Prone Versus Rape-Free Campus Cultures.” Violence Against Women 2(2): 191–208.

[16] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (1997). Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance: National College Health Risk Behavior Survey–United States, 1995. Atlanta: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Division of Adolescent and School Health.

[17] S. Hickman and C. Muehlenhard (1997). “College Women’s Fears and Precautionary Behaviors Relating to Acquaintance Rape and Stranger Rape.” Psychology of Women Quarterly 21:527–547.

[18] M.P. Koss, C.A. Gidycz and N. Wisnewski, (1987) “The scope of rape: Incidence and
prevalence of sexual aggression and victimization in a national sample of higher education students.” Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 55:162-170

[19] B. Fisher and J. Sloan III (1995). Campus Crime: Legal, Social and Policy Perspectives. Springfield (Illinois): Charles C. Thomas.

[20] M., Koss, C. Gidycz and N. Wisniewski (1987). “The Scope of Rape: Incidence and Prevalence of Sexual Aggression and Victimization in a National Sample of Higher Education Students.” Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 55(2): 162–170.

[21] Connie J. Kirkland (1994). Academic Impact of Sexual Assault. Fairfax, VA: George Mason University.

[22] Melissa Holmes, Heidi A. Resnick, Dean G. Kirkpatrick and Connie L. Best (1996). “Rape-related pregnancy: Estimates and descriptive characteristics from a national sample of women.” American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, 175(2): 320-325.

[23] American Medical Association (1995). “Strategies for the treatment and prevention of sexual assault.” Available at www.amaassn.org/ama1/pub/upload/mm/386/sexualassault.pdf.

[24] Fisher, Cullen and Turner (2000).

[25] National Crime Victimization Survey 1995-2000 (2003).

[26] Karjane, Fisher and Cullen (2005).

[27] Ibid

[28] Ibid

[29] Fisher, Cullen and Turner (2000).

[30] Karjane, Fisher and Cullen (2005).

[31] Ibid

[32] Security on Campus, Inc. (2005) “Title IX Requires Colleges & Universities To Eliminate The Hostile Environment Caused By Campus Sexual Assault.”
http://www.securityoncampus.org/victims/titleixsummary.html (accessed December 5, 2006)

[33] Finn (1995).