Survey: Almost One-Fourth of Female Undergraduates Were Victims of Sexual Assault

Almost a fourth of UNC female undergraduates who responded to one of the largest-ever surveys on college sexual assault said they had experienced nonconsensual sexual touching or intercourse during their time at the University.

UNC was one of 27 universities across the country that agreed to take part in the Association of American Universities’ Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct, which sought to gain more understanding of the general campus climate on sexual assault, sexual harassment, intimate partner violence and stalking.

The UNC figure of 24.3 percent for female undergraduates was slightly higher than the comparable overall percentage — 23.1 — among some 150,000 students.

Asked whether that number surprised her, Christi Hurt ’93 — who also received her MPA from UNC in 1998, has more than 20 years in sexual violence response and now is assistant vice chancellor for student affairs — said, “None of the numbers surprise me.” She added that it was good to have any detailed information she could get on UNC students’ experiences.

At Carolina, 12.9 percent of survey respondents indicated that they had experienced at least one of four identified types of improper conduct, including 14 percent of male graduate student respondents and 26.3 percent of undergraduates identifying themselves as neither male nor female.

All students enrolled at UNC — 28,353 — in April 2015 were invited to participate: 5,212 completed the survey, for a response rate of 18.4 percent. Among participants, 3,451 (66.2 percent) self-identified as female, 1,697 (32.6 percent) self-identified as male, and the AAU’s report indicated 64 (1.2 percent) self-identified as neither. Undergraduates made up 3,201 (61.4 percent) of the respondents, and graduate or professional students made up 2,011 (38.6 percent).

Key findings of the survey across the participating institutions, as summarized by the AAU, were:

  • Overall, 11.7 percent of student respondents from 27 universities reported experiencing nonconsensual sexual contact by physical force, threats of physical force or incapacitation since they enrolled.
  • The incidence of sexual assault and sexual misconduct due to physical force, threats of physical force or incapacitation among female undergraduate student respondents was 23.1 percent, including 10.8 percent who experienced penetration.
  • Overall rates of reporting to campus officials and law enforcement or others were low, ranging from 5 percent to 28 percent, depending on the specific type of behavior.
  • The most common reason for not reporting incidents of sexual assault and sexual misconduct was that it was not considered serious enough. Other reasons included because a student was “embarrassed, ashamed or that it would be too emotionally difficult” and because a student “did not think anything would be done about it.”
  • More than six in 10 student respondents (63.3 percent) believe that a report of sexual assault or sexual misconduct would be taken seriously by campus officials.

The report also said, “Nonconsensual sexual contact involving drugs and alcohol constitute a significant percentage of the incidents.”

The survey asked student respondents a wide range of questions, including about perception of risk and prevalence of intimate partner violence, stalking, sexual assault and attempted or completed sexual violence. Questions also examined awareness of support resources and reporting options as well as willingness to intervene as a bystander observing these types of conduct.

A majority of the UNC respondents, 74.1 percent, reported they were “somewhat” to “very” or “extremely” knowledgeable about where to get help at the University if they or a friend are affected by sexual assault. Most, 87.2 percent, indicated they thought campus officials would take the report seriously; 82.8 percent indicated that it is “somewhat,” “very,” or “extremely” likely that the University would provide a fair investigation and; 76 percent said it is “somewhat,” “very,” or “extremely” likely that the University would take action against the offender.

Felicia Washington ’87, UNC’s vice chancellor for workforce strategy, equity and engagement, said she was impressed with the response of Carolina students, especially since they were surveyed during a busy time of the year. “We’re very pleased the students took time to take part in the survey,” she said, adding that Chancellor Carol L. Folt has given the sexual assault issue her highest priority.

Fifty-seven percent of female respondents indicated the reason for not reporting or seeking support from law enforcement or University officials after nonconsensual penetration by force was that the students thought the incident was “not considered serious enough” to report.

For more than two years, Carolina has been under three investigations by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, the result of complaints brought by three alumni who say they were raped; a former administrator in student affairs; and a woman who remains anonymous. UNC was one of the starting points of what now is a network of assault victims across the country who have forced their schools to examine how effectively they handle sexual assault complaints and adjudication of cases.

The University acknowledged its shortcomings when the complaints were filed in 2013, and it has hired recognized experts in the investigation of sexual violence complaints and in the process of guiding a complainant through a network of options. It also brought in a person devoted to educational programs for students as well as others on campus, and it has hired another to help steer complainants to available services.

Washington and Hurt said they continued to keep OCR apprised of what the University is doing with regard to sexual assault policy, but they had no new information on when the agency might report its findings to UNC.

In August 2014, UNC unveiled a comprehensive revised policy on sexual violence that lays out the types of conduct prohibited by the University, offers clarity on key terms — such as “consent” and “incapacitation” — and creates a more easily navigable adjudication process for cases that go to hearings.

OCR recently said it is investigating sexual assault procedures and practices at 128 schools.

The AAU’s full report on the survey is at


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