Study Focuses on Campus Rape

About 3 percent of college women say they have been victims of rape or attempted rape during a typical school year, according to a government report released today.

The study, "The Sexual Victimization of College Women," looks at the frequency and nature of sexual assault on American college campuses, and is based on interviews with college women.

About 1.7 percent of female college students reported being raped, and about 1.1 percent said they were victims of attempted rape, according to the report from the U.S. Justice Department's National Institute of Justice and Bureau of Justice Statistics. About 1.7 percent of the college women reported being coerced to have sex.

An estimated 13 percent of college women had been stalked since the beginning of the school year, according to the study. The high incidence of stalking surprised the researchers, said lead author Bonnie S. Fisher of the University of Cincinnati.

In general, she said, the study shows how official statistics probably underestimate campus rape. To put the statistics into context, she said, consider that the researchers only asked women about their experiences during one academic year. "These numbers would be much higher if we asked about since they were enrolled," Fisher said.

Most Rapes Occur in Residences

The vast majority of of the women were attacked after 6 p.m. in living quarters, according to the report. Of the rapes on campus, almost 60 percent were committed in the victim's residence, 31 percent occurred in other living quarters and 10 percent were perpetrated at a fraternity. Most off-campus incidents also occurred in residences, but many others were in bars, dance clubs, nightclubs and workplace settings.

Most of the sexually assaulted women knew the person who victimized them, according to the report. For both rapes and attempted rapes, nearly 90 percent of the victims knew the offender, who was usually a classmate, friend, ex-boyfriend or acquaintance.

Most rape and attempted rape victims reported they did not suffer additional injuries during the victimization. Of those who did — about one in five — the incidents resulted in additional injury, most often "bruises, black eyes, cuts, swelling or chipped teeth."

Researchers found that for about half of the incidents categorized as completed rapes, the women did not consider the incident to be rape. Completed rape was defined in the study as "unwanted completed penetration by force or threat of force."

"Women may not define a victimization as a rape for many reasons, such as embarrassment, not clearly understanding the legal definition of the term or not wanting to define someone they know who victimized them as a rapist or because others blame them for their sexual assault," the report said.

Different Wording, Different Statistics

The main component of the study was presented as a survey of "unwanted sexual experiences," and obtained information on incidents that victims may not have thought to be criminal.

In another companion component, a different methodology was used, focusing on incidents victims perceived as crimes.

The estimates of completed and attempted rape from the main component were 11 and six times greater, respectively, than those of the companion study.

According to the researchers, the differences between the two components of the study illustrate how different methodologies can influence estimates of rape. The two studies were conducted at the same time, employing similar samples and interviewing methodologies.

Differences arose when the context under which the surveys were conducted changed, as did the wording of the questions used to screen for victimizations and the wording used to determine the type of incident.

Since rape statistics have been the subject of controversy in the past, pitting feminists and conservatives against each other with different numbers, this study can help show how a range of results come about, the researchers said.

"Our results shed some light on some of these measurement issues," Fisher said.

Estimate Too Low?

According to Kim Gandy, executive vice president of the National Organization for Women, the new government study is likely more reliable than those relying only on rapes reported to the police or campus security.

Still, she said, the report probably underestimates the problem of rape in campus. "I'd say [3 percent] is too low," she said. "It's appallingly high when you think about the number of women on a campus, but at the same time I believe it is substantially higher in reality."

The surveys were conducted between February and May 1997, and were administered to women who were enrolled in college at the start of the 1996 fall semester.

The results are based on telephone surveys of randomly selected national samples of women who attended two- or four-year colleges or universities. The sample sizes were 4,445 respondents for the main component and 4,432 for the companion component.