MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Most students say they feel safe on West Virginia University’s main campus, but 1 in 3 women surveyed reported being sexually assaulted, and 10 percent of the female students responding said they’d been raped.
Unfortunately, these numbers are roughly standard for college campuses across the United States, and are most likely under reported, a leading researcher says.
The “climate survey” was sent electronically last spring to 30,470 students on the university’s main campus in Morgantown. Of the 5,718 who responded, 57 percent said they were female and 37 percent male.
One-fourth of these men and women said they had experienced some form of sexual assault during their time at WVU, and 18 percent said someone had fondled them against their will.
Forty-six percent said they’d been sexually harassed — either verbally, through texts, pictures or gestures, pressure for dates or hookups – or when someone exposed their genitals. Thirty percent said they’d been assaulted verbally, in incidents motivated by hate or bias. And 17 percent said they were unwillingly exposed to racist, sexist or other offensive images online.
More than 90 percent said they aren’t worried about being attacked or sexually assaulted by someone they know — a figure that is not necessarily reassuring.
“Most people are sexually assaulted by someone they know,” said Walter DeKeseredy, director of the university’s Research Center on Violence. “A lot of it is coercion.”
But WVU is no worse and no better than other college campuses, said DeKeseredy, who has authored 19 books and more than 130 journal articles and chapters on violence against women. The problem has been known to researchers for 30 years, and has not improved, he said.
“We find on campuses one of the key factors associated with it is having male friends who do it and having male friends who encourage it,” he said. “Your masculinity is measured by sexual conquests.”
Provost Joyce McConnell said university officials are pleased that most students feel safe, but they’re committed to preventing sexual violence. The school has established a program for bystander intervention and improved and promoted a system for filing complaints, so that victims can feel more empowered and secure.
Under reporting, even in anonymous surveys, remains a major challenge for researchers, DeKeseredy said. Victims are reluctant to tell their parents and seldom go to police, even at colleges that handle it well, he said.