University of Texas campus

AUSTIN - Large numbers of undergraduates at the state's two largest universities report being victims of sexual assault, a new study finds.

More than 18 percent of female undergraduates surveyed at the University of Texas at Austin - and 15 percent of those at Texas A&M - reported being victims of sexual assault since enrolling, according to research conducted for the Association of American Universities.

The survey was sent to about 780,000 students at 27 colleges and universities last spring, and nearly 20 percent responded. They included more than 6,600 students at UT Austin.

“One sexual assault is too many,” said UT Austin President Gregory L. Fenves in a statement. “It is essential that we foster a campus that does not tolerate sexual assaults while strongly encouraging victims to come forward and report incidents."

Texas A&M President Michael K. Young called the study “critically important" and noted improvement on the College Station campus through the years due to "programs and processes … having a positive effect."

"However, we recognize that even one incident is one too many and this type of behavior is not in line with what our Aggie values of integrity, loyalty, respect and selfless service represent," he said.

The study comes as the federal government moves to impose new requirements on colleges to report sexual assaults on campus.

One proposal would force colleges to anonymously survey students on sexual assault every two years and publish results online. Colleges could also face fines of up to 1 percent of their operating budgets for mishandling sexual violence cases.

In the study released this week, 23 percent of female undergraduates reported incidents of sexual assault and sexual misconduct due to physical force, threats of physical force, or incapacitation. Nearly 11 percent reported penetration.

Reporting to campus officials, police or others was relatively rare - happening in only 5 to 28 percent of cases - depending on the type of behavior.

Researchers warned that the response rate to the study is lower than similar surveys, and they noted an analysis that suggests the proportion of victims may high.

But Colby Bruno, an attorney for the Victim Rights Law Center in Boston, said the survey's results align with previous research.

“There’s a faction of the public who don’t believe it could be this much because it’s a scary number,” Bruno said, noting that the report shows a significant number of students who say they've experienced forced penetration but didn't report it because it didn't seem serious enough.

“You can’t begin to understand it until you remove your sense of denial," Bruno said.

Amy Murphy, dean of students at Texas Tech University, which did not participate in the study, said her college may hold focus groups to assess issues of sexual violence on the Lubbock campus.

Though the survey’s results are so fresh that many researchers haven’t had a chance to parse them, Murphy agreed they confirm results of about 20 previous studies.

“In terms of overall numbers, it confirmed what we already had," she said.

John Austin covers the Texas Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach him at jaustin@cnhi.com.

Trending Video