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.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.
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.
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.