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Sexual assault at GWU: What college students think about rape

December 20, 2010 - 10:30 AM
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According to a new study of sexual assault on the George Washington University campus, approximately 265 female undergraduates will experience an attempted or completed sexual assault in any given year. The vast majority of them will know their perpetrator. Half of them won't call it "rape." Fewer than 5 percent will report their assault to authorities.

But how do college students perceive this problem of sexual assault on campus? Do they even see it as a problem? And do they know what to do if it happens to them? The new report [PDF], a partnership between the Sexual Violence Awareness Group at GWU's School of Medicine and the Younger Women's Task Force, quizzed more than 5,000 GWU undergraduate and graduate students on their knowledge of the prevalence of sexual assault on campus, the reporting procedures following the assault, and the resources available to victims.

The results reveal a campus of contradictions: 61 percent of students "feel that sexual assault is a problem at GWU," and 15 percent know someone who has actually experienced sexual assault as a student there. But while 71 percent of respondents said that "if an individual were ever raped, GWU has the resources to help from crisis to recovery," 74 percent of students "do not feel that the GWU community educates students about the resources available to victims of sexual assault." And 62 percent "think rape kits are available on GWU's campus through Student Health Services (they're not).

There's an information gap between campus men and women on the topic of sexual assault. Here's the breakdown of the survey questions by gender, where red represents students who identify as male and blue represents students who identify as female:

Sexual assault by gender

The survey marks a slight gender disparity in each category. Men are more likely to believe that the university adequately educates students about its sexual assault resources, and are more likely to express confidence in those resources. However, men are actually slightly more likely to be misinformed about those resources. Men are also less likely to be aware of a sexual assault against a fellow student, and are less likely to see sexual assault as a problem on campus.

Survey responses also varied by academic level. Here's a breakdown of students who see sexual assault as a problem on campus, separated by class. Here, blue represents students who think sexual assault is a problem, and red represents students who don't:

Sexual assault as a problem

The perception of sexual assault as a problem rises significantly between the sophomore and junior years, and continues to rise in postgraduate study.

But GWU students at all academic levels are misinformed about the availability of rape kits on campus:


Knowledge of rape kit availability

In the District of Columbia, rape kits are performed exclusively at Washington Hospital Center; they're not available at GWU Hospital or in an on-campus health center. The report includes a raft of policy recommendations for the university and those like it—from mandatory sexual assault  education programs for students, faculty, and staff to the expansion of rape kit availability to the GWU Hospial. The report also calls for further study of campus attitudes toward sexual assault in the United States; in the meantime, this initial report is available here [PDF].


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