Mebust: Updated statistics important for understanding campus experiences

Geneseo psychology professor Jennifer Katz published a study in the summer of 2010 about Geneseo students’ sexual assault experiences at Geneseo. She reported, “One thing is certain: at Geneseo, we can do better.” In some ways, we are beginning to.

While very important work must still be done regarding this issue, Geneseo and the State University of New York system have taken some enormous first steps to place us ahead of most universities on the issue of campus sexual assault.

The statistics on campus sexual assault as a whole are deplorable. The most important first step we can take on this issue is to research and publish serious statistics detailing its pervasiveness. There is a definite limit to the kind of national debate we can have without hard data—and the statistics on the national level are lacking several important features. Notably, there is not enough research completed to be able to assess the differences in the prevalence of sexual assault between different campuses. There is also not enough information about specific features of sexual assault that we can address.

One number that often comes up in discussions about sexual assault is that one in five women have been the victim of sexual assault by the end of college. This number is grounded in a 2007 study funded by the Department of Justice called the Campus Sexual Assault Survey. This survey was limited because the researchers used two large public institutions—one in the Midwest and one in the South—as their samples. These two schools cannot possibly be truly representative samples of the diversity in American higher education. Campus sexual assault is a problem that is bound to vary by region, school size, religious affiliation, academic standards and a whole host of other factors.

Given the sampling problem, the CSA’s statistics are surprisingly robust. The study did reveal some important information that can be depended on to be approximately accurate. It also gives some insight into the nature of the issue of campus sexual assault. For example, this study and many others revealed that in approximately 90 percent of the cases, the victim knew the perpetrator. In addition, less than 5 percent of cases on college campuses were reported to the police. These are specific and meaningful statistics that can be helpful in creating programs to combat campus sexual assault.

In order to avoid the problem of representative sampling, every college in America should be required to collect serious statistics about the prevalence of sexual assault on their campuses. Only then can they make the results of these studies publically available. No student should decide to attend a college without being able to quantify the risks of going there.

Here at Geneseo, we have been put in a leadership position on this issue. Katz’s study was conducted several years before campus sexual assault became a nationally prominent issue. She will be conducting another study this spring.

In addition, new SUNY regulations require that each college has to conduct a Campus Climate Assessment every two years beginning with the 2015-2016 academic year. It is not clear yet whether the results of these studies will become public, but it is imperative that they do.

Geneseo is far from perfect in regard to what our statistics reveal about sexual assault on our campus. In 2012, 1.08 sexual assaults were reported at Geneseo for every 1000 students—which is by far the worst of any SUNY institution. Katz’s study did not report one in five women being victimized—she reported one in four.

Campus sexual assault is abhorrent, but it is encouraging that we have begun to take an important action toward fixing the problem: measuring it.