Friday, March 19, 2010

1 In 7 Women Students In UK Survey Have Been Victims Of Sexual Assault Or Violence

A recent UK survey of 2000 women by the National Union of Students is summarized in a report titled Hidden Marks (pdf).

Here are some of the findings of this survey from the NUS Women's Campaign:

1 in 7 women students (14%) has been the victim of serious sexual assault or serious physical violence while at university or college, according to the results of a survey conducted by NUS today.

NUS’ ‘Hidden Marks’ survey, which gathered over 2,000 responses from women students in the UK, also found that:

• 12% have been stalked while at university or college
• In 60% of these cases of sexual assault or stalking, the perpetrator was also a student
• Only 4% of women students who have been seriously sexually assaulted have reported it to their institution
• Only 10% of women students who have been seriously sexually assaulted have reported it to the police
• Of those who did not report serious sexual assault to the police, 50% said it was because they felt ashamed or embarrassed, and 43% because thought they would be blamed for what happened.
While the levels of violence highlighted in this report could be seen as nothing more than depressing news which many people may not want to think about, this data can and should be used as evidence to demand that college administrators have primary prevention plans in place which address the dynamics of violence committed by students and by non-students.

These plans need to be in sync with effective systems of response since ineffective response systems often communicate that certain offenses are not truly a big deal. This dismissiveness can be communicated by what people say but it can also be communicated by having a system which doesn't meet the most basic needs of those who try to use it.

The survey found that more than 4 in 10 victims of serious sexual assault tell nobody about the crime committed against them. This statistic is a much needed reminder for those who believe they would know if someone close to them was raped.

While I wasn't raped in college I understand the societal pressures and the personal needs which cause so many sexual assault victims to tell nobody for years or, like me, for decades. Some of those pressures have eased, but too many of those pressures are still being applied. Often these pressures are applied when people inform girls and women about how not to be raped rather than informing people about their responsibility to not rape which includes the responsibility to ensure the other person is freely consenting and to never use the likelihood of consent as a substitute for actual consent.

The demands of being a student can be stressful even without the trauma which comes from a sexual assault. I don't know if any college has a fully effective system for making sure that student crime victims have the resources they need to balance recovery, reporting and their original collegiate goals.

Because this survey data is available, college administrators in the UK cannot claim ignorance if they are doing nothing effective to prevent and respond to the types of violence this survey measured. If they fail to act, they are doing so by choice. They need to be held accountable for that choice.

Too often what are called prevention plans are actually reactive plans which at best do nothing to change the underlying risk and which at worst increase the underlying risk by providing rationalizations for violence against women and by shaming certain victims.

These plans need to have measurable goals which can be linked to increased safety and reduced secondary trauma for victims. To evaluate the effectiveness of these plans this survey and others which measure related attitudes and behavior need to be repeated regularly.

When more than a third of the respondents report sometimes feeling unsafe visiting college buildings in the evening, that indicates that colleges have failed. According to the report these feelings of unsafeness were related most commonly to harassment and intimidation.

Too often harassment and intimidation have been positioned as normal male behavior such that women who are bothered by these are considered to be the problem. These women are often told to get thicker skins or to project more confidence.

The reality is that what makes women feel unsafe needs to be viewed as actually making women unsafe. Too often women's perceptions are dismissed if men's perceptions are not the same. Some of those men who feel safe while women feel unsafe are doing the harassing and intimidating. Other men don't feel unsafe because they are not targeted by those doing the harassing and intimidating.

The other way this lack of safety gets wrongfully dismissed is for the feelings of women students who feel safe to nullify the validity of other women's perceptions and experiences.

All of these nullifications can be seen for what they are when they are compared to measurements of actions which make students unsafe such as stalking and sexual assault. When 14% of respondents report having experienced a serious sexual assault or a serious non-sexual assault then UK college campuses and the surrounding areas are clearly not safe no matter how many students feel safe.

The report does more than communicate what has happened, it provides recommendations. The 2 main recommendations are for colleges to adopt a zero-tolerance approach to harassment and violence and for colleges to develop a cross-institutional policy to tackle violence against women.

Many schools in the US have adopted various zero-tolerance policies yet didn't develop any deeper policies related to actively preventing the actions they didn't want to tolerate. If prevention efforts failed they failed because they weren't effective not because prevention can never be effective.

A school with a no violence policy needs to recognize and allow appropriate defensive violence yet many schools fail in this area. If this failure to recognize genuine self-defense is combined with a failure to recognize and stop sexual violence then victims of sexual violence can be victimized by individuals and by the system.

In this scenario, a zero-tolerance policy could increase the amount of sexual violence because those targeted know they will be punished if they fight off the student sexually assaulting them and those targeting them know this as well and know that without self-defensive violence the student they raped may be slandered as suffering from nothing more than morning after regret.


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posted by Marcella Chester @ 9:24 AM   9 comments links to this post


At March 19, 2010 11:35 AM, Anonymous Kali said...

The 2 main recommendations are for colleges to adopt a zero-tolerance approach to harassment and violence and for colleges to develop a cross-institutional policy to tackle violence against women.

The problem is that colleges do not have the motivation to reduce sexual assault on their campus. Appeals to the conscience of college administrators is not enough to create this motivation. The only way to get them interested in reducing sexual assault is if it starts hurting their bottomline significantly. For this purpose, we need these kinds of surveys to be taken regularly and the data published with a breakdown by college. When prospective students and their parents have customary access to this data and they factor this information into where they apply/accept, that will motivate the colleges to do something about their ranking on this criteria.

At March 19, 2010 12:03 PM, Blogger Marcella Chester said...


You make great points. This lack of motivation is why colleges should be subject to lawsuits if they do not take appropriate steps to prevent violence against their students.

At March 19, 2010 1:59 PM, Blogger cim said...

While it doesn't matter much for the purposes of this report - the recommendations to universities should definitely be implemented regardless - the survey methodology (as far as I can tell, a self-selecting unweighted sample) isn't great.

Unfortunately doing a more statistically valid survey, with enough respondents from each of the 150-odd UK universities to make comparing them useful - and especially repeating it regularly - would cost money that the NUS Women's Campaign almost certainly doesn't have (and no-one with the money is likely to do the research).

I'm not sure what the solution is, because that research (as well as a repeat of Lisak's studies in UK universities) are something the country could really do with.

At March 20, 2010 1:49 PM, Anonymous m Andrea said...

I'm not sure what the solution is, because that research (as well as a repeat of Lisak's studies in UK universities) are something the country could really do with.

Hmmm, how much time and money would it take to photocopy the questionaire which has already been developed for this purpose and clearly passed the peer-review process which validates it's use for this very purpose?

Probably about five measly dollars and five minutes.

I can't count the number of times some "feminist" went to an amazing amount of effort to produce a great tool or article, and then hides it behind twelve layers of "not unless you pay me a royalty". Fuck that, do these "feminists" want to help women or not???

How much money and effort would be required to shove all the data into a spreadsheet created for the purpose of calculating the data?

Perhaps a week for a computer science class to develope the spreadsheet (work which only has to be done once), and an annual week of volunteering for people who know how to type!!

I'm seriously fed up with being told anything which could significantly helps women is "too difficult" or "costs too much money" when it clearly isn't true.

At March 21, 2010 4:05 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I told someone at my school and unfortunately I was blamed. They expected me to go back to class like nothing happened and wanted to completely shame me and make me seem like a slut as well. My attacker brought in copies of friendly emails I had sent him long before the assault took place. He was my classmate and I spoke to everyone in my class. However, the school said that because he brought in evidence for his side and I didn't, he was right. They never addressed the sexual assaults that took place months after I emailed him discussing class projects. They said because we had joked around about our teacher together via email, we had a relationship. They did not discuss the 5 page email he sent me after the assault begging to be forgiven and for me to leave my boyfriend and be with him. Apparently I caused that by having this supposed relationship with him. I have no idea how that relates to the sexual assault, but they thought it did. They never had a trial or if they did never reported the results. They actually called the police on me and said I was making a scene at the school because I was crying. I asked to speak to a counselor and they said that I just needed to stop crying because they don't deal with people that cry. They wouldn't change my class schedule so that I wouldn't have to see this person even though it is in NJ law. The administrator said "I have to work with people I don't like all the time." Since they wouldn't protect me from my attacker I decided to leave school instead of be in class for 8 hours a week with this person. Now everyone in my life thinks I just gave up on school because I'm lazy. If I tell them what happened they act like I dropped out of school because I just have sex with everyone, and they don't get that either. It is hard to deal with. The people at my college made me feel so stupid that sometimes I start wondering if I was really sexually assaulted or if I was an active participant. It is horrible. Why is there a law against rape if they basically make it so that if you have a vagina, you wanted to have sex??? It doesn't matter if you wake up in someone's house not remembering anything and then that person tells everyone he had sex with you 6 times. Something you said 9 months ago in an email really implied you wanted that to happen!! How is someone supposed to defend themselves when they were passed out? Well, the men would say I shouldn't have gotten myself into that situation. And that's what the administrators told me. I'm sure they haven't had their whole being violated and walked on.

At March 21, 2010 8:21 AM, Blogger Marcella Chester said...


I encourage you to report this negligence. What you describe is malpractice and a flat out encouragement for rapists to rape as long as they pick someone who was ever friendly with them.

If you are in the US, you can begin by contacting

If you are in another country please let me know which one it is and I will see if I can find a resource for you.

At March 21, 2010 8:34 AM, Blogger Marcella Chester said...

Anonymous, I missed the NJ reference which I assume is New Jersey. You definitely have resources available.

At March 21, 2010 10:13 AM, Blogger cim said...

"Hmmm, how much time and money would it take to photocopy the questionaire"

m Andrea: the problem isn't reproducing the survey, the problem is getting a statistically valid sample. For finding out that there is a serious problem, you don't need a particularly good sample: the anecdotes in the detailed answers, and the rough percentages, are sufficient, and your sample being self-selecting isn't a large problem.

This survey gave a figure of 1 in 20 women are raped at university. It doesn't really make any difference to whether the recommendations are good whether this figure is "really" 1 in 2 or 1 in 200 instead.

If you want to compare different universities, however (or the same university over time, to see how well the recommendations work), then you need a properly balanced random sample - and getting them is relatively expensive.

Getting a separate good random sample for each university, to do the name-and-shame/praise league tables that might actually get universities to take the problem seriously, would be relatively expensive times 150: cheap for the government to mandate universities to fund themselves, but prohibitively expensive for a feminist group to fund independently.

At March 22, 2010 10:43 AM, Anonymous Kali said...

We could lobby for legislation where colleges have to fund these annual surveys which can then be done by third parties. I don't think it is asking for too much. AFAIK, the Clery Act in USA requires colleges (that receive federal funding) to disclose crime statistics on their campus. But these are only reported crimes and colleges have every motivation to discourage reporting of crime (especially crime against women). Victimization surveys will give a more accurate picture and cannot be manipulated by colleges as easily.


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