The Association of American Universities released the results of a comprehensive study on sexual assault on 27 college campuses Monday. The study revealed that 23.1 percent of female students nationwide reported being the victim of nonconsensual sexual contact due to force or incapacitation. UT ranked third-lowest among the colleges at 18.5 percent. In an email sent Monday morning to UT students, President Gregory Fenves wrote, “…there is much work to be done on our campus to combat sexual assault. One sexual assault is too many.”
These statistics are nothing new. What is disturbing is that nothing has changed. The AAU Executive Study acknowledges, “The average rates of nonconsensual sexual contact by physical force or incapacitation across all 27 IHEs [or institutions of higher education] are as high or slightly higher than those revealed in prior surveys.” This survey doesn’t give us the answer to ending sexual assault on campuses. But it does confirm that the problem will not disappear without a real effort by students to put an end to sexual assault.
According to Fenves’ email, UT is a lead participant in a four-year UT System study of sexual assault on its campuses. The University’s participation creates the opportunity to conduct a thorough internal investigation that reveals patterns within campus culture.
In order to fill in the gaps in the AAU survey, the UT study should ask questions that would reveal environmental and demographic patterns surrounding sexual assault. But there is a fine line between gathering information and requiring students to divulge traumatic memories. To respect that distinction, the survey should not be a thorough forensic interview requiring the student to relive an experience. Rather, it should emphasize key data points that would provide a more comprehensive picture of the nature of sexual assault at UT.
But in order to maximize its impact, the UT System’s study needs a higher response rate than the AAU’s. Just 13 percent of UT students completed the survey, and self-reporting can present any number of statistical biases. UT’s study cannot be accurate unless participation is mandatory, as it is for the University’s alcohol awareness program.
UT already has a number of successful campus initiatives in place that focus on outreach and awareness. But the alarming prevalence and persistence of sexual assault even on conscientious campuses such as this one highlight the inadequacy of current policies.
The AAU survey diagnosed a major problem without identifying its symptoms. For there to be any hope of solving sexual assault, the UT System survey cannot afford to do the same. The epidemic of sexual assault on campus requires a long-term commitment from the administration that escapes the confines of a boardroom and assures women that if change isn’t happening now, it will.