Nearly 1 in 5 female students at the University of Oregon have been raped or experienced an attempted rape while attending the school, according to a new study, but few said they reported sexual attacks to the authorities.
The data come from an online survey of almost 1,000 students administered by a psychology professor and two graduate students at the university, where preliminary findings were released this week.
But the survey's findings -- including that 90% of those who say they were victimized did not report unwanted sexual contact to school officials -- have alarmed university leadership.
"These survey results shine a light on a terrible, unacceptable problem. It shows us we have a lot of work to do," interim university President Scott Coltrane said in a statement provided to the Los Angeles Times.
According to the new study, 10% of female students surveyed said they had experienced unwanted vaginal or anal penetration during their time in college. When expanded to include unsuccessful attempts of rape, 19% of the female students said they had been attacked.
When further expanded to include unwanted groping or oral sex, 35% of surveyed female students and 14% of male students reported being assaulted.
Seventy-three percent of students reported knowing their attacker, and 58% of attacks happened in a private residence rather than in a dorm (17%) or in a fraternity (10%), the results showed.
"It's important to know the majority of the victims are saying they knew their perpetrator – these are not stranger events," said Jennifer Freyd, a professor of psychology at the university who administered the study. "Our societal understanding [of rape] is someone jumping out of the bushes, but that's not the biggest risk for college students."
The survey said 86% of rape survivors surveyed did not tell any university source about what had happened. But that's only part of the problem with the university's response, investigation and punishment process, Freyd said in an interview with The Times on Thursday.
"It's very clear there's a lot of dead ends" in the reporting process, she said. "A student makes a report, and maybe that report is supposed to get passed forward, and it doesn't. … We don't know what happens."
Freyd said that in one study she'd done with university employees, "we had quite a substantial group of employees saying they did receive a report, but they didn't pass it on, perhaps because they're as confused as the students."
"Underreporting of sexual assault is a widespread problem that needs immediate attention," Coltrane, the interim president, said in a separate statement addressing the release of campus crime statistics. "The university has a responsibility to keep students safe, and we must do anything we can to create an environment where they are comfortable coming forward with reports of incidents."
The study was funded through the University of Oregon Center for the Study of Women in Society and from private donations made through the University of Oregon Foundation.
Respondents were selected randomly from a pool of degree-seeking undergraduate students and offered a $20 Amazon gift certificate for participation. Researchers hoped to get 1,000 responses; they received 982 completed questionnaires and 76 partially completed ones. Their target population was 53% women, but respondents were 66% female. Respondents also were more likely to be white than the target population.
Freyd said more findings were expected as researchers continued to sift through the data.