TIME campus sexual assault

Columbia University Activist Emma Sulkowicz Is Going to the State of the Union

Campus sexual assault activist will leave her mattress at home

Emma Sulkowicz, the Columbia University student who has been carrying her mattress around campus to raise awareness about sexual assault, will accompany Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) to Tuesday’s State of the Union address.

As a co-sponsor of the Campus Safety and Accountability Act, Gillibrand says she is pushing for Obama to address campus sexual assault in his speech, especially as he unveils his plan to make two years of community college free for all Americans. “I hope the President will seize this opportunity to shine a national spotlight on the need to flip the incentives that currently reward colleges for sweeping sexual assaults under the rug,” she told the New York Daily News.

Sulkowicz, 22, has been carrying her mattress around campus as part of her senior thesis about campus sexual assault. She says that after she was raped by a classmate in 2012, Columbia failed to punish her attacker. Although two other women also publicly accused the same man of assault, the university found him “not responsible.” Sulkowicz has been carrying her mattress everywhere she goes on campus to call attention to the issue, but she won’t be brining her mattress to the State of the Union.

“The Columbia administration is harboring serial rapists on campus,” Sulkowicz wrote in an op-ed for Time.com. (The university declined to comment in response to the article.) The accused student has also spoken out. He says his encounters with Sulkowicz and the other students were entirely consensual.

TIME Crime

Why UVA’s New Frat Rules May Not Make Much Difference

TIME.com stock photos Drinking Fraternity Frat Solo Cups
Elizabeth Renstrom for TIME

Methods of enforcement remain few and far between

The University of Virginia has proposed new rules for its fraternity system after the uproar that broke out both on and off campus following a controversial magazine story late last year that depicted a brutal gang rape at a frat house.

The new rules include some strong reforms like the elimination of kegs and hard-alcohol punch. But the nature of the relationship between the university and the fraternities, many of which are privately owned, may make the rules hard to enforce.

The individual Greek organizations have until Friday to agree to the new rules. If they don’t, they risk losing formal affiliation with the university—the one bit of leverage UVA administrators have over the fraternities. Under the new rules, fraternities must furnish a minimum of three “sober brother monitors,” at parties, who must wait at each alcohol distribution point as well as the stairs leading to the residential bedrooms. Beer must be served unopened in the original can, pre-mixed punches would be prohibited, wine must be poured out of a bottle by a sober brother, and hard alcohol can only be served at large parties by a hired bartender licensed by the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. A privately contracted security guard would also have to stand outside the front door and check names off a guest list.

MORE The Sexual Assault Crisis on American Campuses

The new rules come after UVA briefly suspended social activities at all fraternities on campus following the publication of an article in Rolling Stone that included a detailed account of a horrific rape that allegedly happened at a UVA fraternity. The story has since been found to have significant inconsistencies. After the Washington Post and other outlets identified problems with the story, Rolling Stone issued an apology and promised to investigate further. On Monday, UVA announced that it would reinstate the fraternity in the story, Phi Kappa Psi, after the Charlottesville Police failed to find any “substantive basis” to confirm the gruesome events described in the story.

Despite the inconsistencies in the article, UVA has decided to go ahead with fraternity reform. Though UVA President Teresa Sullivan was careful not to single out Greek organizations as the main culprits in the problem of sexual assault on campus during an interview with TIME last year, the rules do reflect a slightly softer version of the reforms she favored. “The days of the trash can full of punch have to be over,” she told TIME.

MORE UVA President: Eliminate All Booze Except Beer

Nonetheless, it appears that UVA may not be doing much to enforce the reforms—a reflection of the tricky nature of governing private organizations on campus. According to ABC News, UVA spokesman Anthony de Bruyn said the university would not provide staff to monitor the fraternities to because they are privately owned. “The University will work closely with Greek leadership to support them in seeking compliance with the new practices by their members,” de Bruyn told Time. “Should violations be brought to the University’s attention, as has been the case it the past, the Dean of Students Office will investigate, and any appropriate next steps would be based upon the details of each case.”

The lack of formal monitoring raises questions as to whether the reforms will have any teeth.

TIME campus sexual assault

Setting the Record Straight on ‘1 in 5′

students running on campus
Getty Images

Christopher Krebs and Christine Lindquist are Senior Research Social Scientists at RTI International, an independent, nonprofit research institute. They are both in the Center for Justice, Safety, and Resilience at RTI, and they directed the Campus Sexual Assault Study, which was funded by the National Institute of Justice and completed in 2007.

There are caveats that make it inappropriate to use the number as a baseline when discussing rape and sexual assault on campus.

If you’ve followed the discussion about sexual assault on college campuses in America, it’s likely you’ve heard some variation of the claim that 1 in 5 women on college campuses in the United States has been sexually assaulted or raped. Or you may have heard the even more incorrect abbreviated version, that 1 in 5 women on campus has been raped.

As two of the researchers who conducted the Campus Sexual Assault Study from which this number was derived, we feel we need to set the record straight. Although we used the best methodology available to us at the time, there are caveats that make it inappropriate to use the 1-in-5 number in the way it’s being used today, as a baseline or the only statistic when discussing our country’s problem with rape and sexual assault on campus.

First and foremost, the 1-in-5 statistic is not a nationally representative estimate of the prevalence of sexual assault, and we have never presented it as being representative of anything other than the population of senior undergraduate women at the two universities where data were collected—two large public universities, one in the South and one in the Midwest.

Second, the 1-in-5 statistic includes victims of both rape and other forms of sexual assault, such as forced kissing or unwanted groping of sexual body parts—acts that can legally constitute sexual battery and are crimes. To limit the statistic to include rape only, meaning unwanted sexual penetration, the prevalence for senior undergraduate women drops to 14.3%, or 1 in 7 (again, limited to the two universities we studied).

Third, despite what has been said in some media reports, the 1-in-5 statistic does not include victims who experienced only sexual-assault incidents that were attempted but not completed. The survey does attempt to measure attempted sexual assaults, but only victims of completed incidents are included in the 1-in-5 statistic.

Fourth, another limitation of our study—inherent to web-based surveys—is that the response rate was relatively low (42%). We conducted an analysis of this nonresponse rate and found that respondents were not significantly different from nonrespondents in terms of age, race/ethnicity or year of study. Even so, it is possible that nonresponse bias had an impact on our prevalence estimates, positive or negative. We simply have no way of knowing whether sexual-assault victims were more or less likely to participate in our study. Face-to-face interviewing tends to get higher response rates but is considerably more expensive and time-consuming. That said, given the sensitive nature of the questions, the anonymity and privacy we afforded respondents may have made women comfortable with responding honestly. Overall, we believe that the trade-offs associated with low response rates were overcome by the benefits of cost-efficiency and data quality.

To back up, it makes sense to explain exactly how a woman responding to our web-based survey—conducted in 2007 and funded by a grant from the National Institute of Justice—would get counted as a victim in the 1-in-5 statistic. In the survey, all 5,446 randomly sampled undergraduate women who participated were presented with a prompt explaining that subsequent questions would ask them about “nonconsensual or unwanted sexual contact” including:

* forced touching of a sexual nature (forced kissing, touching of private parts, grabbing, fondling, rubbing up against you in a sexual way, even if it is over your clothes)

* oral sex (someone’s mouth or tongue making contact with your genitals or your mouth or tongue making contact with someone else’s genitals)

* sexual intercourse (someone’s penis being put in your vagina)

* anal sex (someone’s penis being put in your anus)

* sexual penetration with a finger or object (someone putting their finger or an object like a bottle or a candle in your vagina or anus).

Among other items, the students, after being told they were going to be asked about their experiences with unwanted sexual contact, were asked these two key questions:

Since you began college, has anyone had sexual contact with you by using physical force or threatening to physically harm you?

and

Since you began college, has someone had sexual contact with you when you were unable to provide consent or stop what was happening because you were passed out, drugged, drunk, incapacitated, or asleep? This question asks about incidents that you are certain happened.

To be counted as a victim of sexual assault or rape and included in the 1-in-5 statistic (19.8%), a woman would have to be a senior and answer “Yes” to one or both of those questions.

In our reports, sexual-assault victims who selected only “Forced touching of a sexual nature” in a follow-up question asking about the type of contact that happened were classified as victims of sexual battery only, whereas victims who selected any of the other response options (oral sex, sexual intercourse, anal sex, or sexual penetration with a finger or object) were classified as victims of rape.

Our survey had limitations, as outlined above. However, we believe the results have value for several reasons.

First, all research of this kind faces methodological and logistical challenges, but we approached the study objectively and implemented it with as much methodological rigor as possible given the budget we were given and the state of the field at that time.

Second, our results are not inconsistent with other studies that surveyed undergraduate students about their sexual-assault experiences, and surveying students directly about their sexual-assault experiences using behaviorally specific language remains the most scientifically valid way to measure the prevalence of sexual assault. Survey data have limitations, but they are universally believed to be more accurate than official law-enforcement or campus crime data on sexual assault. A large majority of sexual-assault victims do not report their experiences to law enforcement or other authorities, so official crime statistics dramatically underestimate the prevalence of sexual assault.

Third, the study results are helping fuel a conversation about sexual assault on college campuses, a problem that likely exists at most colleges—not just the two with which we collaborated—and it negatively impacts many thousands of students every year. We are pleased to be part of this conversation and to see attention being paid to this issue, especially since there seems to be ample room for improvement in terms of how universities, service providers, law enforcement and the justice system go about trying to prevent victimization, encourage reporting, meet the needs of survivors and respond to reported incidents.

What we are perhaps most excited about is that additional research is currently being conducted that will build and improve upon what has been done to date. For example, at RTI, we are working on a new study with the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the Office of Violence Against Women, and the White House to develop a survey instrument and methodology for collecting valid and reliable data on campus climate and sexual assault.

Although there will never be a definitive estimate of the prevalence of sexual assault, these new research efforts are larger in scale and are employing scientific best practices, which will result in methodological improvements that should increase the validity and utility of the findings. With these methods and the knowledge we gain along the way, we can begin to envision a meaningful research agenda, which could involve collecting data from students at many universities, perhaps on an annual or ongoing basis, creating nationally representative as well as university-specific estimates.

Christopher Krebs and Christine Lindquist are Senior Research Social Scientists at RTI International, an independent, nonprofit research institute. They are both in the Center for Justice, Safety, and Resilience at RTI, and they directed the Campus Sexual Assault Study, which was funded by the National Institute of Justice and completed in 2007.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Crime

These Are the Women Forgotten in the Sexual Assault Crisis

Focus on campuses obscures young women not in school

There’s a new wrinkle to the ongoing debate about campus sexual assault: Non-students are actually more likely than students to be victimized, according to new federal data.

The finding, in a Justice Department report released Thursday, comes amid a fierce focus over the last several months on campus sexual assault and the federal government’s efforts to address it. This new data indicates that just as much—if not more—needs to be done to protect young college-aged women who aren’t in school. College-aged women, whether or not they are in school are more likely to be victims of rape and sexual assault than other age groups.

“I think the data shows that all the attention to college rape over the last year has been appropriate because it’s a problem there, but it has been too narrow a focus because we want to make sure we are not leaving out the huge number of people who don’t go to college,” says Scott Berkowitz, president of Rape Abuse & Incest National Network.

MORE: The sexual assault crisis on American campuses

For the period of 1995 to 2013, non-students aged 18-24 were 1.2 times more likely to be victims of sexual assault than their student counterparts, according to the report.

The report contained other interesting findings about the similarities and differences between these two groups of victims. Students and non-students were equally likely to know their attacker (80% in both cases), but non-students were more likely to report it to the police. Eighty percent of student rapes and sexual assaults went unreported to the police compared to 67% for non-students. The finding is particularly interesting because of the debate raging among advocates, public officials and administrators over how best to involve police in campus assault.

“Much of the reform attention has been on the college judicial process,” adds Berkowitz, “but this data really points out that we cannot focus on that at expense criminal justice system, because that would mean abandoning the great many victims who never attend college.”

TIME Crime

Christian University Apologizes to Sexual Assault Victims

BOB JONES UNIVERSITY
People cross over the walkway near the fountains on the campus of Bob Jones University in Greenville, S.C. on March 1, 2000. Patrick Collard—AP

"We failed to uphold and honor our own core values"

A prominent Christian university in South Carolina apologized to victims of sexual assault and abuse Wednesday ahead of a report released Thursday that documented the school’s failure to adequately respond to their needs.

“On behalf of Bob Jones University, I would like to sincerely and humbly apologize to those who felt they did not receive from us genuine love, compassion, understanding, and support after suffering sexual abuse or assault,” university president Steve Pettit said in an address to students Wednesday. “We did not live up to their expectations. We failed to uphold and honor our own core values.”

MORE: The sexual assault crisis on American campuses

The apology came in advance of a 300-page report published Thursday, drawn from interviews with some 40 victims of sexual abuse or sexual assault at Bob Jones university over four decades. The report paints a picture of an administration that failed to offer them appropriate counsel, and in some instances even made them feel at fault for their abuse.

The report was conducted by an independent organization, GRACE, a non-profit Christian group dedicated to helping the Christian community respond to abuse. “This comprehensive report contains painful disclosures by sexual abuse victims and strong language when describing the impact of the institutional responses to abuse disclosures,” GRACE said.

The report comes after months of scrutiny of colleges and universities across the country, as they try to grapple with mounting calls to reform the institutional response to campus sexual assault.

 

TIME campus sexual assault

Lena Dunham’s Publisher to Alter Her Book After Threat of Litigation Over Rape Story

Random House

Publisher will indicate that the name of a student who sexually assaulted her is a pseudonym.

In her recent essay collection, Not That Kind of Girl, Lena Dunham recounts being sexually assaulted as an undergraduate by a fellow student named Barry whom she portrays as Oberlin College’s “resident conservative” at the time. He wore cowboy boots and sported a moustache, hosted a radio show and worked at the library. This description, it turns out, is very similar to an actual student named Barry, who, since the book’s publication, has denied he raped Dunham. According to the Hollywood Reporter, his attorney, Aaron Minc, has requested that Dunham’s publisher, Random House, alter the passage to indicate that the name is a pseudonym, and the publisher has agreed to comply.

Random House told Minc that his client is not the rapist Dunham writes about in her book. The publisher has also offered to pay Minc’s client’s legal fees, although Minc says, “Ideally, we were looking for something from Miss Dunham.” Minc says he believes his client is a victim of libel, but hoped that remedial action from Dunham and her publisher would ease Barry’s suffering and prevent the decision to take legal action.

Lena Dunham responded to the debate over her essay and her decision to include details in her book about her alleged assailant in an essay published by Buzzfeed on Tuesday evening. In the piece, she apologizes for any harm she may have caused the ‘real-life’ Barry:

To be very clear, “Barry” is a pseudonym, not the name of the man who assaulted me, and any resemblance to a person with this name is an unfortunate and surreal coincidence. I am sorry about all he has experienced.

Speaking out was never about exposing the man who assaulted me. Rather, it was about exposing my shame, letting it dry out in the sun. I did not wish to be contacted by him or to open a criminal investigation.

Following the book’s publication in September, the conservative news site Breitbart.com launched an investigation into the specifics of the alleged assault as described by Dunham. And on Tuesday, Kurt Bardella, a spokesperson for Breitbart.com, had this to say about the site’s investigation and Dunham’s apology:

The investigative piece published by Breitbart was never about trying to prove if Lena Dunham was raped or not–that’s absurd and impossible–rather the piece was about a real-life person named Barry who, regardless of her intentions, found himself at the center of a story he was never a participant in and doing him the courtesy of due diligence that he wasn’t afforded prior to the publication of Lena Dunham’s book. By her own admission, the “resemblance to a person with this name is an unfortunate and surreal coincidence” but also illustrates the unintended consequences that can reverberate when chronicling such a sensitive story. The story of real-life Barry and of Leah Dunham’s rape are not mutually exclusive–one doesn’t have to be right for the other to be wrong–they can both be right and in Breitbart’s eyes, they should both be told.

The debate strikes a sensitive chord at a time when discussions about rape on college campuses are more charged than ever.

Dunham appears to have predicted some of the fallout from the story. She told Howard Stern back in October, “This was an essay I was very anxious and self-conscious about putting in the book because we are in a current culture where everything is turned into a game of telephone and it turns into a headline.” Still, she says she hopes speaking out would make an impact on the many young women who blame themselves for being sexually assaulted.

Editor’s note: This piece has been updated to reflect Lena Dunham’s apology regarding the portion of her book about sexual assault.

TIME College Sports

Accuser’s Attorney: Jameis Winston Violated Confidentiality Instructions

Florida Florida St Football
Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston warms up prior to an NCAA college football game against Florida inTallahassee, Fla. on Nov. 29, 2014. John Raoux—AP

Winston's statement marked the first time he publicly gave his side of the story pertaining to the sexual assault allegations

The attorney for the woman who accused Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston of sexually assaulting her in 2012 alleges that Winston and his attorney have violated confidentiality instructions given by retired Florida State Supreme Court Chief Justice Major Harding.

Winston’s two-day hearing, which was heard by Harding, ended on Wednesday. The quarterback reportedly did not testify, but he did read a five-page statement denying the allegations against him. The statement was obtained by both ESPN and USA TODAY.

The woman’s attorney, John Clune, issued a statement on Thursday in response:

“It apparently took about one hour for Mr. Winston and his lawyer to violate Justice Harding’s confidentiality instructions by emailing out one of the exhibits to the media. Jameis Winston’s crude new recollection of events is as disgusting as it is implausible. He just keeps digging himself deeper. For now we will trust in the strength of our client’s repeated and consistent interviews. The time for Winston, [Chris] Casher, and [Ronald] Darby to fully explain this new story will come.”

Winston had the right to not answer any questions at the hearing. His teammates, Casher and Darby, reportedly refused to testify on Tuesday.

Winston’s statement marked the first time he publicly gave his side of the story pertaining to the sexual assault allegations. He had previously denied the allegations through his attorney.

The purpose of the two-day hearing was to determine if Winston violated up to four school student conduct codes.

Winston was accused of sexual assault in December 2012. In November 2013, the state’s attorney announced that it was investigating the accusation. The investigation was completed a month later, and no charges were filed. Authorities have been criticized for being slow to act on the woman’s claim. In October, a FOX Sports report alleged that university administrators and Tallahassee police took steps to “hide and then hinder” an investigation.

After the hearing, Winston’s lawyer, David Cornwell​, told ESPN there was no evidence in the hearing to suggest the quarterback did anything wrong, while Clune said he expects Winston to be found responsible for sexually assaulting his client.

Harding has up to 10 class or exam days to submit his decision, meaning a decision does not need to be made until January.

This article originally appeared on SI.com

TIME Education

Time to Call the Cops: Title IX Has Failed Campus Sexual Assault

Demonstrators protest sexual assault on college campuses at the #YesAllWomen rally in solidarity with those affected by violence in Seattle on May 30, 2014.
Demonstrators protest sexual assault on college campuses at the #YesAllWomen rally in solidarity with those affected by violence in Seattle on May 30, 2014. Alex Garland—Demotix/Corbis

Robert Shibley, an attorney, is Senior Vice President of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).

Though based in compassion, the reality is a system that encourages silence or the avoidance of law enforcement

A recent article in Rolling Stone has related a horrifying account of an on-campus gang rape allegedly committed by University of Virginia students in 2012. Third-year student “Jackie” told her story of how, as a freshman, she was brutally raped for three hours by seven men in a darkened, upstairs room at a fraternity party after being lured there by “Drew,” an upperclassman. Jackie’s account of her subsequent run-ins with Drew only add to the chilling nature of the crime: Weeks and months after the incident, Drew acted as though nothing unusual had happened, even thanking her for the “great time” he’d had.

This is criminal, predatory, and sociopathic behavior. If Jackie’s account is accurate, the perpetrators deserve lengthy prison sentences. Yet they reportedly graduated from UVA and remain at large. Why? Did police and prosecutors drop the ball?

No. Nobody ever even called the police. UVA handled the case internally, which is entirely normal on today’s college campuses. For everyone’s sake, this must stop—and the sooner the better.

The cause and extent of the problem of sexual assault on campus is hotly debated. But there’s no dispute that the broken way colleges handle these cases is a result of the federal government’s current interpretation of Title IX, the civil rights law that bans sex discrimination in federally funded educational programs (including nearly all colleges, public or private). Regulations from the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights encourage schools to allow victims to decide how and whether to go to police, while demanding that schools conduct what amount to rape trials in campus kangaroo courts, even if the crime is never reported to law enforcement. This has proved to be a mistake.

The motivation for this “police optional” approach is based in compassion. Advocates argue that law enforcement is skeptical or dismissive of accusers’ claims, that a police investigation will “revictimize” those who have already been through a traumatic experience they’d rather not revisit, and that the evidentiary standards maintained by the criminal justice system means that it’s likely their attackers will go free.

Yet the huge costs of this approach are too often ignored. Foremost is the fact that many campus sex crimes are never subjected to professional forensic investigation, leaving perpetrators unpunished and free to commit further crimes. Part of the horror of Jackie’s story is the sense that this was not the perpetrators’ first crime—and probably not their last. One oft-cited study suggests that serial predators commit around 90% of campus rapes, with an average of nearly six rapes per perpetrator. If this number is anywhere near accurate, each rape not reported to law enforcement is a missed opportunity to protect future victims from harm.

No rape victim, on campus or off, should be required to report what happened to them to the police or to anyone else. But designing a system that encourages silence or the avoidance of law enforcement is unconscionable. As Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick writes, “How can a felony offense be kept out of the police’s hands, and how can victims be presented with a menu of choices that includes, and even encourages, doing nothing?

We cannot reduce the incidence of rape by giving up on the only system that can actually remove dangerous people from society. If police have retained outmoded or simply uninformed attitudes towards victims of sexual violence, the solution is to educate and train them to properly handle victims and investigate these crimes, not to outsource the job to self-interested, underqualified campus administrators. For those concerned with issues of class and privilege, this should be an especially high priority. Nothing we do on campus can help people who don’t and won’t attend college—a cohort disproportionately composed of the poor and minorities. Improving police response to sexual crimes is the only way to help victims universally.

Campuses have a role to play when their students are victimized. They can separate accusers and the accused, provide counseling and protective services, and help guide them to the resources they need, including resources to navigate and cope with the police and legal process. They can also maintain clear memoranda of understanding with local police departments that facilitate the quick, thorough, and professional investigation of all felony crimes committed on campus.

Neither accusers nor the accused will get justice if Title IX continues to be interpreted to force colleges to investigate and adjudicate these crimes themselves. That system has failed. As the Rape, Incest, and Abuse National Network wrote in a letter to the White House last February, “It would never occur to anyone to leave the adjudication of a murder in the hands of a school’s internal judicial process. Why, then, is it not only common, but expected, for them to do so when it comes to sexual assault?”

Robert Shibley, an attorney, is Senior Vice President of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Crime

Report of Gang Rape at Virginia University Reignites Debate on Campus Sexual Assault

"Jackie began to scream"

A chilling new account of a gang rape of a freshman girl at University of Virginia fraternity house serves as a fresh reminder that much of campus sexual assault is not just confused drunken sex between teenagers, but real violent crime.

MORE: The sexual assault crisis on American campuses

The story by Rolling Stone opens with the following disturbing first hand account by a girl called Jackie, who says she was raped by seven men at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house while two other men watched, just four weeks into her freshman year at UVA in 2012.

“Shut up,” she heard a man’s voice say as a body barreled into her, tripping her backward and sending them both crashing through a low glass table. There was a heavy person on top of her, spreading open her thighs, and another person kneeling on her hair, hands pinning down her arms, sharp shards digging into her back, and excited male voices rising all around her. When yet another hand clamped over her mouth, Jackie bit it, and the hand became a fist that punched her in the face. The men surrounding her began to laugh. For a hopeful moment Jackie wondered if this wasn’t some collegiate prank. Perhaps at any second someone would flick on the lights and they’d return to the party.

“Grab its motherf—ing leg,” she heard a voice say. And that’s when Jackie knew she was going to be raped.

The story is graphic, disturbing, and may be traumatizing for anyone who has experienced a sexual assault. Beyond the horrific account, the story goes on to use Jackie’s experience, other assaults at UVA, and observations from experts to show the ways in which UVA seems to cover up sexual assault. UVA president Teresa Sullivan denied the school was involved in any cover up of sexual assault, telling Rolling Stone: “If we’re trying to hide the issue, we’re not doing a very good job of it.”

Read more at Rolling Stone

TIME Sexual Assault

The Troubling Statistic in MIT’s Sex Assault Survey

MIT Campus Sexual Assault
The main entrance to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass. Rick Friedman—Corbis

Many students were uncertain about what qualified as sexual violence -- even the ones who experienced assault

A new survey of student experiences with sexual assault at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is an encouraging step for schools working to put an end to the shamefully widespread problem of campus rape.

That the prestigious school released the study publicly is helpful in erasing the stigma surrounding sexual assault. And the numbers show that even an institution far better known for Fields Medals than frat parties has an incidence of campus rape comparable to other colleges. Roughly 35% of MIT’s 11,000 graduates and undergraduates took the anonymous survey. Of the undergrads, about 17% of women and 5% of men reported experiencing sexual assault while at the Massachusetts school.

But a deeper look at the numbers points to a more troubling statistic. Even though 17% of female undergraduates reported an experience that fits the survey’s definition of sexual assault (“unwanted sexual behaviors … involving use of force, physical threat, or incapacitation”), only 11% of female undergraduates checked “yes” when asked directly if they had been “raped” or “sexually assaulted.” Despite a concerted effort by the Obama Administration, state officials and campus leaders, MIT students were uncertain about what qualified as sexual violence — even when reporting that they had experienced assault.

Sadly, that’s not exactly surprising. Experts say there are numerous reasons students struggle to understand the definition of sexual assault, including denial about the experience and and the hesitation to apply the label to attackers or those who experience it. “There is still such a stigma to be a ‘rape victim’ or a ‘rapist,'” says Jane Stapleton, a University of New Hampshire researcher and expert in sexual assault prevention.

The MIT survey also indicated a tendency among undergraduates to blame victims, including themselves, for assaults that had taken place. Fifteen percent of female undergraduate respondents and 25% of male undergraduates said that a drunk person who is assaulted is “at least somewhat responsible” for what happened, while 31% of female undergraduate respondents and 35% of males said they believed that sexual assault and rape “happen because men can get carried away in sexual situations once they’ve started.”

Of students who said they had been assaulted, many blamed themselves, which may explain why so few of them decided to report the incident. Of the assault victims, 72% said they didn’t think it was “serious enough to officially report” and 44% said they “felt they were at least partly at fault or it wasn’t totally the other person’s fault.”

These attitudes are somewhat incongruous with the fact that assault victims also reported having felt a great deal of trauma because of the assault–35% reported being unable to complete assignment and 30% reported being unable to eat. Only about 5% of respondents to MIT’s survey reported the experience to someone in an official capacity.

MIT Chancellor Cynthia Barnhart says part of the challenge in reducing assault is educating students about all the forms it takes. “We can’t prevent what is not agreed upon by everyone,” she says.

Barnhart says that MIT has had an increase in reported sexual misconduct since the survey was advertised last spring, a sign that awareness is growing.

Still, as Stapleton says, “it’s going to take time to change the culture.”

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser