Students at prominent historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) demand that school administrators address sexual assault more vigorously. (Courtesy of HU News Service)
Students at prominent historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) demand that school administrators address sexual assault more vigorously. (Courtesy of HU News Service)

Sexual assault on college campuses remains a far-too frequent occurrence that more often goes unreported and includes any unwanted sexual activity from undesired touching to rape.

And while more students now report related incidents than previously indicated in earlier polls, a groundbreaking, online survey recently published by the Association of American Universities [AAU] confirms that a significant percentage of college students face sexual harassment and sexual violence.

The survey, the largest of its kind, serves as the second collection of data, the first poll being held in 2015, and includes more than 180,000 students at 33 colleges and universities – an increase from 150,000 students and 27 schools, respectively.

Participating schools with the highest number of undergraduate women who reported victimization as nonconsensual sexual contact include Georgetown University and the University of Southern California, 31.6 and 31 percent, respectively.

The University of Virginia [UVA], still working toward regaining the trust of its students after mishandling a case first reported in Rolling Stone which alleged that a female student had been gang-raped – a situation initially ignored by UVA in 2014 – shared data which shows that 25.5 percent of undergraduate women indicated that they’d experienced sexual violence. Seventy-two percent of students surveyed said it was very or extremely likely that a report of sexual misconduct would be taken seriously compared to 59 percent in 2015. Both then and now, UVA maintains they take seriously all reports of sexual violence.

In a written statement, Georgetown University President John J. Gioia said an increasing number of students indicate an awareness of what the school does to assist victims of sexual misconduct. He points to a five-hour training program for students in what is known as “bystander intervention,” and says the survey indicates those efforts may be paying off. Still, he admits there’s more work ahead.

“As a community, we have significant work to do in order to achieve a campus environment free from sexual misconduct,” he said.

“It appears as though our students have an increased understanding of and comfort with intervening,” said Samantha Berner, Georgetown’s Title IX coordinator in an interview published in The Washington Post.

Other schools participating in the survey were California and Massachusetts institutes of technology; Boston; Carnegie Mellon; Case Western Reserve; Iowa State; Northwestern; Ohio State; Rice; Stanford; Texas A&M; Vanderbilt and Yale universities; Washington University in St. Louis; and the universities of Arizona, Chicago, Florida, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina, Pittsburgh, Rochester and Southern California.

In response to charges that schools have poorly supported women who have complained of sexual assault, in 2011 the U.S. Department of Education issued a “Dear Colleague” letter to universities, advising academic institutions on various methods intended to reduce incidents of sexual assault on campuses. However, legal experts voice concerns about risks of abuses against the accused. And with revisions in disciplinary processes, lawsuits filed by men alleging bias and/or violations of their rights have become more frequent.

Research of American college students suggests that white women, prior victims, first-year students and more sexually active women serve as the most vulnerable to sexual assault. However, regardless of race, the majority of victims know their assailant. Black women in America are more likely to report sexual assault that has been perpetrated by a stranger. Victims of rape are mostly between 10 and 29 years old, while perpetrators are generally between 15 and 29 years old. And nearly 60 percent of rapes that occur on campuses happen in the victim’s dorm or apartment.

D. Kevin McNeir – Senior Editor

Dominic Kevin McNeir is an award-winning journalist with more than 25 years of service for the Black Press (NNPA). Prior to moving East to assist his aging parents in their struggles with Alzheimer’s,...

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