Campus rape

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Campus rape is the sexual assault, including rape, of a student attending an institute of higher learning such as a college or university, though not all reported incidents of students being sexually assaulted occur on campus property. According to a 2014 report from the United States Bureau of Justice Statistics covering the period 1995 to 2013, 0.2% (200 per 100,000) of women aged 18–24 enrolled in a college, university or trade school were victims of rape. A total of 0.6% (600 per 100,000) experienced any kind of sexual assault or attempted sexual assault, with approximately 50% occurring at home or away from campus. Nonstudents (65,700) also accounted for more than double the number of rape and sexual assault victimizations as students (31,300).[1]

Rape on college campuses occurs against men and women of all ethnicities and social classes, and many victims totally or partly blame themselves for the occurrence, which may lead to underreporting."Women generally do not report their victimization, in part because of self-blame or embarrassment."[2]


The prevalence of rape is a debated topic for several reasons. Definitions of rape can vary and rape is an under-reported crime. Since not all rapes are reported, researchers instead rely on surveys of student and nonstudent populations to develop a more comprehensive understanding of the prevalence. Survey design including the questions and the sample quality and scope can also create wide ranges in rates.[1]

Rate or sexual assault in decline. Rape, a subset of sexual assault, took place 3.1 times per 1,000 (0.3%)[1]

The most recent study, conducted by U.S. Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Statistics, represents a longitudinal study of US women from 1995 to 2013. For the year 2013, the study found that college aged women (regardless of enrollment status) were more likely to be sexually assaulted at 4.3 per 1,000 (0.4%) and than other women at 1.4 per 1,000 (0.1%). The study also found that the rate of sexual assault has been falling steadily since 1995, from a peak of 0.9% in 1997 to the current 0.4%. Rape, a subset of all sexual assault, had an incidence of 3.1 per 1,000 female students (0.3%) in 2013[1]

The study included comparisons with past studies, specifically The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS) and the Campus Sexual Assault Study (CSA) which indicated higher assault rates. Those studies used broader definitions of sexual assault (including unwanted touching or unintended sex while intoxicated) and included behaviors that do not meet the criminal definition of sexual assault. The previous surveys also depended on online surveys which are subject to misinterpretation by respondents. The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) instead relied on telephone interviews which permitted clarifying questions. The BJS survey was also careful to avoid "telescoping" (the reporting of events occurring outside of a reference period as though they occurred within the specified period); the NISVS and CSA which were unbounded which can have artificially high incident rates due to events occurring outside of the reference period being telescoped in. Finally, BJS survey had an 88% response rate versus 33% for the two other studies which lessens self-selection bias (people who have been assaulted more likely to respond).[1]

Other studies and accuracy debate[edit]

In recent campus and governmental discourse, urgency to combat campus sexual assault has been fueled by repeated statistics that one in five (20%), and as much as one in four (25%) women will be victimized at college. Since most assaults are committed in private and many victims decline to come forward, accurate figures are more difficult to derive. Outside of reported crimes to colleges and government authorities, researchers depend on surveys to get a broader view of sexual assault incidence. Depending on how questions are asked, to whom they are asked, the definition of sexual assault, and how the data is represented can create very wide swings in rates.[3]

Koss Study (1985)[edit]

In 1985, Mary Koss, a professor of psychology at Kent State University, conducted a national rape survey on college campuses in the United States, sponsored by the National Institute of Health and with administrative support from Ms. Magazine. The survey, administered on 32 college campuses across the USA, asked 3,187 female and 2,872 male undergraduate students about their sexual experiences since age 14. The survey included ten questions related to sexual coercion. Out of the 3,187 undergraduate women Koss surveyed, 207, or 6%, had been raped within the past year. 15.4 percent of Koss' female respondents had been raped since age 14, an additional 12.1 percent of female respondents had experienced attempted rape since age 14, and 4.4 percent of college men reported perpetrating legal rape since age 14.[4] The combined figure for rape and attempted rape of women since age 14, 27.5 percent, became known as the "one in four" statistic.[5]

According to Christina Hoff Sommers, the Koss study and the oft-quoted "one in four" statistic is based upon flawed data. One of the three questions used by Koss to calculate rape prevalence was, "Have you had sexual intercourse when you didn't want to because a man gave you alcohol or drugs?" According to Sommers and professor Neil Gilbert, this left the door open for anyone who regretted a sexual liaison to be counted as a rape victim, even if neither partner thought of the situation as abusive.[5] In 1999, researchers Martin Schwartz and Molly Leggett found that most victims did not report the incident and did not consider it as "rape" both in cases of being physically forced while alert and of being intoxicated.[2][6]

Other studies of the time, such as those by scholars Margaret Gordon and Linda George, found much lower measured rape prevalence,[5] with their research simply asking women if they had been raped rather than asking behaviorally specific questions. The use of multiple behaviorally specific questions in rape surveys has since become an accepted approach used by both academic researchers and multiple U.S. federal government agencies.[7]

National College Women Sexual Victimization (NCWSV) survey (1997)[edit]

In 1997, The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) and the United States Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) conducted the National College Women Sexual Victimization (NCWSV) survey. In it, 4,446 American college women were chosen randomly and surveyed. The effort consisted of behaviorally specific questions that describe an incident in graphic language and cover the elements of a criminal offense, such as "Did someone make you have sexual intercourse by using force or threatening to harm you?" According to that survey, 1.7% of women had experienced a rape and another 1.1% had experienced an attempted rape. The National Institute of Justice pointed out in a report that this single estimate does not take into account variation between semesters and calculated, with caveats, that it can climb to between one-fifth and one-quarter over the course of a school career.[8][9]

Emily Yoffe, writing for Slate noted that this approach is problematic, which the researchers also detail in their footnotes. It takes the 1.7% assault rate from the survey and makes mathematical projections that presume students are there for 60 months, and that their experience in the first year (the highest risk period) is the same for all 5 years. She then goes on to state "The one-fifth to one-quarter assertion would mean that young American college women are raped at a rate similar to women in Congo, where rape has been used as a weapon of war." A more accurate approach is a longitudinal study,[3] like that of the 2014 Bureau of Justice Statistics report.

Victim demographics[edit]

Research of American college students suggests that white women, prior victims, first-year students, and more sexually active women are the most vulnerable to sexual assault. Another study shows that white women are more likely than non-white women to experience rape while intoxicated, but less likely to experience other forms of rape. This high rate of rape while intoxicated accounts for a white women reporting a higher overall rate of sexual assault than non-white women, although further research is needed into racial differences and college party organization.[9] Regardless of race, the majority of victims know the assailant. Black women in America are more likely to report sexual assault that has been perpetrated by a stranger.[10] Teenage girls[clarification needed] are more likely to think that stranger rape is more serious than other forms of rape.[11] Victims of rape are mostly between 10 and 29 years old, while perpetrators are generally between 15 and 29 years old.[12]

The National Institute for Mental Health and Ms. Magazine study mentioned before also found a 1 in 7 sexual assault rate for men, indicating that violence against men was also a significant problem.[13] A 2007 National Institute of Justice study found that, in terms of perpetrators, that about 80% of survivors of physically forced or incapacitated sexual assault were assaulted by someone that they knew.[13]

Influence of alcohol[edit]

Alcohol consumption is known to have effects on sexual behavior and aggression. During social interactions, alcohol consumption also encourages biased appraisal of a partner’s sexual motives, impairs communication about sexual intentions, and enhances misperception of sexual intent, effects exacerbated by peer influence about how to act when drinking.[14] The effects of alcohol at point of forced sex are likely to impair ability to rectify misperceptions, diminish ability to resist sexual advancements, and justifies aggressive behavior.[14] Alcohol provides justification for engaging in behaviors that are usually considered inappropriate. Studies have shown consistent alcohol use in reported cases of sexual and non-sexual violence. The increase of assaults on college campuses can be attributed to the social expectation that students participate in alcohol consumption. The peer norms on American college campuses are to drink heavily, to act in an uninhibited manner and to engage in casual sex.[15]

Various studies have concluded the following results:

  • On average, at least 47% of college students’ sexual assaults are associated with alcohol use[1]
  • 74% of perpetrators and 55% of victims of rape of a nationally representative sample of college students had been drinking alcohol[14]
  • Women whose partners abuse alcohol are 3.6 times more likely than other women to be assaulted by their partners[16]
  • In 2013, more than 14,700 students between the ages of 18 and 24 were victims of alcohol-related sexual assault in the U.S.[1]
  • In those violent incidents recorded by the police in which alcohol was a factor, about 9% of the offenders and nearly 14% of the victims were under age 21[17]

However, the method for obtaining these numbers has come under criticism. Professor Neil Gilbert pointed out the ambiguity of the role of alcohol in answering whether or not a sexual encounter was consensual:

"What does having sex 'because' a man gives you drugs or alcohol signify? A positive response does not indicate whether duress, intoxication, force, or the threat of force were present; whether the woman's judgment or control were substantially impaired; or whether the man purposefully got the woman drunk in order to prevent her resistance to sexual advances.... While the item could have been clearly worded to denote "intentional incapacitation of the victim," as the question stands it would require a mind reader to detect whether any affirmative response corresponds to this legal definition of rape."[18]

The Blade released a special report, "The Making of an Epidemic", criticizing the "Koss" study (which concluded that 55% of rape victims have been intoxicated). According to The Blade, Koss specifically ignored an Ohio statute that excluded "...situations where a person plies his intended partner with drink or drugs in hopes that lowered inhibition might lead to a liaison." Koss later admitted that the wording of the survey had been ambiguous.[19]

Some universities only hold men accountable for gaining consent even when both parties are intoxicated. In a recent lawsuit against Duke university, a Duke administrator when asked does verbal consent need to be mutual when both participants are drunk stated "Assuming it is a male and female, it is the responsibility in the case of the male to gain consent before proceeding with sex."[20] Other institutions state only that a rape victim has to be "intoxicated" rather than "incapacitated" by alcohol or drugs to render consent impossible.[21]


Acquaintance rape[edit]

Acquaintance rape is the most common form of rape. In the U.S., 78% of all sexual assaults are committed by acquaintances. Victims between 18 and 29 years old are the highest risk group for sexual assault. In half of acquaintance assault cases, the victim and rapist are somewhat familiar with one another, 24% were perpetrated by an intimate partner, and 2% by a relative.[1] Date rape, a form of acquaintance rape, is a non-domestic rape committed by someone known to the victim.[22] Date rape constitutes the vast majority of reported rapes. It can occur between two people who know one another usually in social situations, between people who are dating as a couple and have had consensual sex in the past, between two people who are starting to date, between people who are just friends, and between acquaintances. It includes rape of co-workers, schoolmates, friends, and other acquaintances, providing they are dating.[23] Date rape is considered the most unreported crime on college campuses.[24] The term date rape is often referred to as ‘acquaintance rape’ or ‘hidden rape’ and has been identified as a problem in western society.[25]

Stranger rape[edit]

Sexual assault by an assailant upon a person he or she does not know was cited in 22% surveyed incidents among enrolled student respondents.[1]

Gang rape[edit]

Gang rape is a rape perpetrated by multiple offenders at once. The Bureau of Justice Statistics report that only 5% of all rape cases involve more than one offender.[1] Fifty-five to seventy percent of gang rape perpetrators belong to fraternities. Eighty-six percent of off-campus attempted rape or sexual assaults are at fraternity houses.[26] College gang rape tends to be perpetrated by middle- to upper-class men.[27]

There are higher incidents of gang rape within fraternities for many reasons: peer acceptance, alcohol use, the acceptance of rape myths and viewing women as sexualized objects, as well as the highly masculinized environment. The Neumann study found that fraternity members are more likely than other college students to engage in rape.[26] Part of the prevalence of fraternity rape may be due to the fact that some colleges do not have complete control over the privately owned fraternity houses.[9] Although gang rape on college campuses is an issue, acquaintance, and party rape (a form of acquaintance rape where intoxicated people are targeted) are more likely to happen.[27]

College campus reactions[edit]

Some colleges have come under federal investigation for their handling of sexual assault cases, described by civil rights groups as discriminatory and inappropriate.[28][29] College campuses can be described as either "rape-free" or "rape-prone". Rape-free campuses are those that seriously deal with incidents of rape, and do not condone alcohol use, while rape-prone campuses do neither.[27]

According to sociologist Michael Kimmel, rape-prone campus environments exist throughout several university and college campuses in North America. Kimmel defines these environments as “…one in which the incidence of rape is reported by observers to be high, or rape is excused as a ceremonial expression of masculinity, or rape as an act by which men are allowed to punish or threaten women.”[30]


The Campus Sexual Assault Victims’ Bill of Rights was a 1992 amendment to the 1990 act. It requires that schools have prevention policies and provide care for victims.[31] The law was amended again in 1998 to expand requirements, including the crime categories that must be reported. Some universities have taken additional steps to reduce the amount of rape on their campuses. Some schools host rape awareness programs, which are designed to educate the students about the risks and means to prevent rape. There are also other educational opportunities, with experts on the subject speaking at mandatory dorm meetings where students get reading material about safety and information about people who work at the women’s center so that if something happens, a victim would know who to call and what to do. Other options to promote a safe campus environment are to sell pepper-spray at discounted prices and offer self-defense workshops. To truly change the cycle of violence, perpetrators needs to be educated on how to understand when sex is inappropriate.[9]

Prevention efforts by the Obama administration[edit]

In 2011, the United States Department of Education sent a letter, known as the “Dear Colleague” letter, to the presidents of all colleges and universities in the United States stating that Title IX requires schools to investigate and adjudicate cases of sexual assault on campus.[32] The letter also states that schools must adjudicate these cases using a “preponderance of the evidence” standard, meaning that the accused will be responsible if it is determined that there is at least a 50.1% chance that the assault occurred. The letter expressly forbid the use of the stricter “clear and convincing evidence” standard used at some schools previously. In 2014, President Barack Obama established the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault, which published a report reiterating the interpretation of Title IX in the “Dear Colleague” letter and proposing a number of other measures to prevent and respond to sexual assault on campus, such as campus climate surveys and bystander intervention programs.[33][34] Shortly thereafter, the Department of Education released a list of 55 colleges and universities across the country that it was investigating for possible Title IX violations in relation to sexual assault.[35]

Civil liberties concerns for the accused[edit]

The Obama administration’s approach toward sexual assault on campus has been widely criticized for not taking into account the issue of false allegations and wrongful convictions.[36][37][38][39][40][41] Critics claim that the “preponderance of the evidence” standard is not appropriate for college and universities to base sanctions upon, and leads to students being wrongfully expelled. Campus hearings have also been criticized for failing to provide many of the due process protection that the United States Constitution guarantees in criminal trials, such as the right to be represented by an attorney and the right to cross-examine witnesses. The American Association of University Professors and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education have publicly opposed the “Dear Colleague” letter.[42]

Anti-rape advocates have also protested the Obama administration. In early 2014, RAINN, the nation’s largest non-profit dedicated to preventing rape, wrote an open letter to the White House calling for campus hearings to be de-emphasized due to their lack of accountability for survivors and victims of sexual violence. According to RAINN, “The crime of rape does not fit the capabilities of such boards. They often offer the worst of both worlds: they lack protections for the accused while often tormenting victims.”[43]

Since the issuance of the “Dear Colleague” letter, a number of lawsuits have been filed against colleges and universities across the country by male students alleging that the schools violated their rights under Title IX by expelling them for rapes they did not commit.[44][45][46][47] Xavier University entered into a settlement in one such lawsuit in April 2014.[48]

Position of NCHERM[edit]

In May 2014, the National Center for Higher Education Risk Management issued an open letter to all parties involved in the issue of rape on campus.[49] While NCHERM expressed support for the “Dear Colleague” letter and the adjudication of rape cases by schools, they took no position on whether the “preponderance of the evidence” standard is appropriate and raised a number of concerns. They claim that many cases are not clear-cut, and there is often not adequate evidence to know what actually happened. The letter expresses concern that “in a lot of these cases, the campus is holding the male accountable in spite of the evidence – or the lack thereof – because they think they are supposed to.”

The letter makes note that, in cases where a school is inaccurately portrayed in the media as having let a rapist off the hook, the school cannot set the record straight due to its confidentiality obligations under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. It also raises the issue of false allegations arising from mental health issues, in which the accusers sincerely “believe something has happened to them that evidence shows absolutely did not.” NCHERM criticizes schools for “[holding] men accountable for drunken hook ups that shouldn’t violate campus policies” and advocates for allowing students to have legal representation during campus hearings.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Langton, Lynn; Sinozich, Sofi (11 December 2014). "Rape and Sexual Assault Victimization Among College-Age Females, 1995–2013". Bureau of Justice Statistics. Retrieved 21 December 2014. 
  2. ^ a b Ellen R. Girden; Robert Kabacoff (2010). Evaluating Research Articles From Start to Finish. SAGE Publishing. pp. 84–92. ISBN 9781412974462. 
  3. ^ a b Yoffe, Yoffe (7 December 2014). "The College Rape Overcorrection". Slate. Retrieved 21 December 2014. 
  4. ^ Koss, Mary (1988). "Hidden Rape: Sexual Aggression and Victimization in a National Sample of Students in Higher Education". Rape and Sexual Assault (Garland Publishing) 2: 8. 
  5. ^ a b c Who Stole Feminism? (Simon & Schuster Inc., New York, 1994) by Christina Hoff Sommers, chapter 10, pp. 209-226. {excerpt here}.
  6. ^ Schwartz, Martin (1999). "Bad Dates or Emotional Trauma? The Aftermath of Campus Sexual Assault". Violence Against Women (Sage Publications) 5: 251–271. doi:10.1177/10778019922181211. 
  7. ^ Fisher, Bonnie (2004). "Measuring Rape Against Women: The Significance of Survey Questions". National Criminal Justice Reference Service. 
  8. ^ "The Sexual Victimization of College Women". Us Department of Justice. Retrieved 2011-07-05. 
  9. ^ a b c d Armstrong, E. A., Hamilton, L., Sweeny, B., Sexual Assault on Campus: A Multilevel, Integrative Approach to Party Rape. pp. 483–493
  10. ^ Furtado, C., "Perceptions of Rape: Cultural, Gender, and Ethnic Differences" in Sex Crimes and Paraphilia Hickey, E.W. (ed.), Pearson Education, 2006, ISBN 0131703501, pp. 385–395.
  11. ^ McGowan, M.G., "Sex Offender Attitudes, Stereotypes, and their Implications" in Sex Crimes and Paraphilia Hickey, E.W. (ed.), Pearson Education, 2006, ISBN 0131703501, pp. 479–498.
  12. ^ Flowers, R.B., Sex Crimes, Perpetrators, Predators, Prostitutes, and Victims, 2nd Edition, p. 28.
  13. ^ a b "Rape on College Campus". Union College. Retrieved May 19, 2014. 
  14. ^ a b c Abbey, A (2002). "Alcohol-related sexual assault: A common problem among college students". Journal of Studies on Alcohol 63 (2): 118–128. PMID 12022717. 
  15. ^ Nicholson, M.E. (1998). "Trends in alcohol-related campus violence: Implications for prevention". Journal of Alcohol and Drug Education 43 (3): 34–52. 
  16. ^ Demetrios, N; Anglin, Deirdre; Taliaferro, Ellen; Stone, Susan; Tubb, Toni; Linden, Judith A.; Muelleman, Robert; Barton, Erik; Kraus, Jess F. (1999). "Risk factors for injury to women from domestic violence". The New England Journal of Medicine 342 (25): 1892–1898. doi:10.1056/NEJM199912163412505. PMID 10601509. 
  17. ^ "Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services". Retrieved 2011-02-26. 
  18. ^ Gilbert, "Examining the Facts," pp. 120-32
  19. ^ Blade, special report. "The Making of an Epidemic", p. 5. October 10, 1993
  20. ^ "PA Duke senior sues the university after being expelled over allegations of sexual misconduct". Durham, N.C.: Indy Week. 2014. Retrieved August 2, 2014. 
  21. ^ "Stanford Trains Student Jurors That ‘Acting Persuasive and Logical’ is Sign of Guilt; Story of Student Judicial Nightmare in Today’s ‘New York Post’". 2011. Retrieved August 2, 2014. 
  22. ^ Curtis, David G. (1997). "Perspectives on Acquaintance Rape". The American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress, Inc. 
  23. ^ Cambridge Police 97 crime report[dead link]
  24. ^ "K-State Perspectives". Retrieved 2011-01-25. 
  25. ^ "Perspectives on Acquaintance Rape". Retrieved 2011-01-25. 
  26. ^ a b Neumann, S., "Gang Rape: Examining Peer Support and Alcohol in Fraternities" in Sex Crimes and Paraphilia Hickey, E.W. (ed.), Pearson Education, 2006, ISBN 0131703501 pp. 397–407.
  27. ^ a b c Thio, A., 2010. Deviant Behavior, 10th Edition
  28. ^ "Feds launch investigation into Swarthmore's handling of sex assaults". Philadelphia Inquirer. 2013-07-16. 
  29. ^ "Annual campus crime report may not tell true story of student crime". Daily Nebraskan. 2013-07-16. 
  30. ^ Kimmel, Michael (2008). The Gendered Society Reader. Ontario: Oxford University Press. pp. 24, 34. ISBN 9780195421668. 
  31. ^
  32. ^ "Dear Colleague Letter". United States Department of Education. April 4, 2011. 
  33. ^ Bidwell, Allie (January 22, 2014). "White House Task Force Seeks to Tackle College Sexual Assault". U.S. News and World Report. 
  34. ^ "The First Report of the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault". April 2014. 
  35. ^ Anderson, Nick (May 1, 2014). "55 colleges under Title IX inquiry for their handling of sexual violence claims". The Washington Post. 
  36. ^ Grasgreen, Allie (February 12, 2014). "Classrooms, Courts or Neither?". Inside Higher Ed. 
  37. ^ Taranto, James (December 6, 2013). "An Education in College Justice". The Wall Street Journal. 
  38. ^ Hingston, Sandy (August 22, 2011). "The New Rules of College Sex". Philadelphia. 
  39. ^ Grossman, Judith (April 16, 2013). "A Mother, a Feminist, Aghast". The Wall Street Journal. 
  40. ^ Berkowitz, Peter (February 28, 2014). "On College Campuses, a Presumption of Guilt". Real Clear Politics. 
  41. ^ Young, Cathy (May 6, 2014). "Guilty Until Proven Innocent: The Skewed White House Crusade on Sexual Assault". Time. 
  42. ^ "Feds Want Campus Sex Convictions Made Easier". WND. February 24, 2014. 
  43. ^ "RAINN Urges White House Task Force to Overhaul Colleges' Treatment of Rape". Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network. March 6, 2014. 
  44. ^ Schow, Ashe, "Backlash: College men challenge 'guilty until proven innocent' standard for sex assault cases", Washington Examiner, 11 August 2014
  45. ^ Van Zuylen-Wood, Simon (February 11, 2014). "Expelled Swarthmore Student Sues College Over Sexual Assault Allegations". Philadelphia. 
  46. ^ Lauerman, John (December 16, 2013). "College Men Accused of Sexual Assault Say Their Rights Violated". Bloomberg. 
  47. ^ Parra, Esteban (December 17, 2013). "DSU student who was cleared of rape charges sues school". The News Journal. 
  48. ^ Myers, Amanda Lee (April 24, 2014). "Basketball star Wells settles suit against Xavier". Associated Press. 
  49. ^ Sokolow, Brett A. (May 27, 2014). "An Open Letter to Higher Education about Sexual Violence from Brett A. Sokolow, Esq. and The NCHERM Group Partners". The NCHERM Group, LLC. 

Further reading[edit]