Education

Survey: More than 1,050 University of Kentucky students sexually assaulted in one year

More than 1,050 University of Kentucky students said they were sexually assaulted in one year, but fewer than half reported the assaults to any authorities, according to preliminary data from a broad new survey released Monday.

The Campus Attitude Toward Safety Study surveyed 24,382 students, the biggest such survey of its kind at UK and possibly one of the largest in the nation. Students were required to take the survey last spring before they could register for classes or receive a transcript.

The survey, which is to continue for the next four years, looks at a range of issues, from trust in UK's administration in dealing with safety issues (high) to understanding the process for reporting a sexual assault (low).

"This survey isn't a silver bullet; it is a bullet that has to pierce the hearts and minds of everybody on this campus that has responsibility for one another and responsibility for the welfare of what is most precious to us, and that's our students," UK President Eli Capilouto said at a news conference to announce the findings.

Researchers defined sexual assault narrowly in the survey, which also asked students for details about their attackers and where the assaults occurred. Students could refuse to answer questions in the survey, but 821 of the 1,053 who said they were assaulted during the previous 12 months provided information about where the assaults took place. Of those, 62.5 percent said the assaults occurred off campus, and 37.5 percent said they were assaulted in UK housing or housing affiliated with UK.

Of the 830 students who provided details about their attackers, 74.6 percent said they were attacked by a fellow UK student. An additional 3.1 percent said they were assaulted by a UK employee.

Of the 694 assaults that involved an attacker or location affiliated with UK, only 144 were reported to a UK official or the Violence Intervention and Prevention Center, which provides confidential counseling. Instead, 63 percent of those victims told an "other," mostly family or friends. When asked why they did not seek help from UK, most reported that they "wanted to forget it happened," "felt it was private," or that they were "embarrassed or ashamed."

"We know we have good services, but there is a large amount of under-reporting, and that's a challenge," said Diane Follingstad, director of UK's Center for Research on Violence Against Women.

The level of under-reporting revealed by the survey is higher than previously thought. For example, the Herald-Leader reported this year that during the 2013-14 school year, UK reported 12 sexual assaults on campus in a federally mandated report. That same year, 67 people reported sexual assaults to the Violence Intervention and Prevention Center.

Follingstad said the UK survey's results appeared to be in line with those at other universities.

Capilouto said he was encouraged that most students reported feeling safe at UK — 98.2 percent during daytime and 77.2 percent at night — and that they "believe in our commitment to fostering a safe community."

"At the same time, we learned — just as other colleges and universities are learning — that we can do more to increase awareness of, and connect students to, the resources available on our campus if they face — or have faced — an emotionally challenging and visceral experience," Capilouto said. "This is why we conducted this exercise and why we will continue to do so ... . Data-driven decision-making is how we improve the effectiveness of our programs and the safety of our campus community."

Here are some other survey results; not every student answered every question:

■ 23 percent reported being sexually harassed, 16 percent said they were verbally bullied, and 13 percent reported bullying via social media.

■ 91 percent said UK administrators would be fair in responding to a sexual assault report, and 93 percent said they thought UK police would be helpful. But 52 percent said they thought the accused person and the person's friends would retaliate if the assault were reported, though 91 percent thought UK would try to prevent such retaliation.

■ More than three-quarters of students knew that UK personnel are required to report sexual assault accusations, but only 60 percent knew that accommodations could be made for sexual assault victims, such as moving students to different dorms.

■ Of the roughly 13,000 students who reported being in a relationship, 7 percent reported physical violence from their partner during the previous year, and 17 percent reported serious psychological abuse.

The survey also asked students about events they witnessed in the previous 12 months. For example, nearly 17 percent reported that they think they observed or suspected seeing a drunken person being led away for sex. Almost 10 percent witnessed hearing someone admit they made someone have sex, and 8 percent suspected or witnessed drugs or extra alcohol being slipped into drinks.

UK has been held up as a national model for sexual assault prevention because of earlier surveys, the Violence Intervention and Prevention Center and Green Dot, a national training program created at UK to prevent sexual assault. In 2004, UK found that nearly 40 percent of women on campus had been victims of some type of violence, whether stalking, physical abuse or sexual assault.

"I feel like (the results) are in line with anecdotal experiences of what we've heard from folks," said Rhonda Henry, director of the Violence Intervention and Prevention Center. "For me, we have to have a better understanding of what people are actually experiencing if we're going to respond appropriately."

UK researchers hope to have a more complete report, including more demographic details, later in the year. On Thursday, they are hosting a conference with all eight public universities and 13 private institutions in the state to discuss their findings and the policy consequences.

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