CHAPEL HILL — Sexual assault is part of the college experience for many students at UNC-Chapel Hill, particularly women, a recent survey says.
Nearly half of young women in their fourth year or higher at UNC-CH reported experiencing nonconsensual sexual touching or penetration during college, according to the 2019 survey by the Association of American Universities.
More than a third of all female undergraduate UNC students reported being sexually assaulted during their time in college.
Nearly 6,000 UNC-CH students responded to the survey, which is part of an effort by the group of research universities to help its members across the nation combat sexual assault and misconduct on their campuses.
The rates were “alarming” and higher than they were in a 2015 survey, UNC-CH officials said in a report released to the campus community Tuesday.
The survey defined nonconsensual penetration as penetration involving physical force (including attempts), coercion, no voluntary agreement or the inability to consent or stop what was happening because the student was passed out, asleep or incapacitated due to drugs or alcohol. Nonconsensual sexual touching was defined under the same circumstances.
Serena Singh, a senior adviser for the UNC Undergraduate Executive Branch of Student Government, said she would define that as rape.
“It’s horrifying,” Singh said of the results. “I can’t speak for every student on this campus, but people that I have talked to are very concerned.”
She said she was shocked at how high the numbers were but not surprised at the upward trend from 2015.
Interim Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz and Becci Menghini, an interim vice chancellor, sent students and the campus community a letter Tuesday acknowledging that sexual assault and harassment are serious problems at UNC-CH and across the country. They said the data is “very concerning.”
“These behaviors have profound physical and emotional effects on the people who experience them and also have lasting impacts on other members of the campus community,” the letter read. “And while many of you have been very active in raising awareness and staying engaged in the issue, we need the help of every person — now more than ever — to change our culture.”
Sexual assault affects all types of students
While the statistics showed the high prevalence of sexual misconduct affecting undergraduate women on campus, many others are also subjected to it.
About 10 percent of undergraduate men reported nonconsensual sexual touching or penetration and that rose to about 15 percent for male undergraduate students in their fourth year or higher.
UNC-CH students who identify as trans man or woman, genderqueer or nonbinary, questioning or who did not list an identity also experienced high rates of sexual assault. About 26 percent of those students who responded to the survey said they experienced nonconsensual sexual touching or penetration. It increased to 29 percent for those students in their fourth year or higher at the university.
The prevalence of sexual assault were slightly lower for graduate and professional students at UNC-CH. About 16 percent of women reported experiencing nonconsensual sexual touching or penetration during college. About 16 percent of students that identify as trans man or woman, genderqueer or nonbinary, questioning or who did not list an identity also reported that experience. And 6 percent of men said they’d been assaulted during college.
Most students who responded said they didn’t think it would happen to them. However, about 40 percent of undergraduate women said they feel that they will experience sexual assault or misconduct at UNC-CH.
“There needs to be a larger conversation about why people come into college campuses feeling so concerned for their safety,” Singh said. “That’s a larger societal problem that is really showing itself in that statistic.”
The survey found that the majority of offenders are another UNC-CH student (72 percent). And the student usually knows the person who assaulted them, whether it’s a friend, classmate or intimate partner.
The incidents also frequently involved alcohol, and they occurred most often in university dorms, fraternity houses and other residences.
The results showed that the majority of UNC-CH students who reported being assaulted told someone, in most cases a friend. Fewer than 20 percent contacted a professional or university resource or program like the campus health center or police.
The biggest reason students didn’t contact programs or resources for help was because they didn’t feel like it was serious enough. Many said they didn’t think the assault was worth reporting because it seems common, they weren’t injured or hurt, it started as consensual or alcohol or drugs were involved.
After reviewing the survey, the university plans to create a coalition of students, faculty and staff to help devise a strategy for prevention and awareness. The university will also work with experts to improve prevention programs, consent education and bystander intervention training.