What colleges don’t tell you: Most campus sexual assaults happen in dorms; freshmen particularly vulnerable

A law professor says colleges ought to alert parents and students from the first day about the risk of sexual assaults and where they are likely to occur: dorm rooms. Vino Wong, vwong@ajc.com

Andrea Anne Curcio, a Georgia State University College of Law professor, researches sexual violence issues, including campus sexual assaults.

In this piece, Curcio reveals a fact seldom highlighted on campus tours or freshman orientation. “What no one is talking about is that most assaults occur in dorms and residence halls — a fact that should play a critical role in  awareness and  targeted prevention efforts,” said Curcio. The essay was originally published on TheConversation.com

By Andrea Anne Curcio

Throughout the summer before my daughter left for college, I repeatedly warned her: never put a glass down at a party; use the buddy system when going to parties; and never go upstairs at a fraternity party.

Instead, what I should have told her is: the place you are most likely to be assaulted is in your dorm; you are most vulnerable the first weeks of the semester; and your attacker is most likely to be a friend or acquaintance.

In the past couple of years, much has been written about the high rate of sexual assaults on college campuses. What no one seems to be talking about is that most assaults occur in the dorms.

A 2015 study found over 20 percent of all women surveyed experienced unwanted sexual contact while attending college. This confirmed earlier findings from a survey conducted between 2005 to 2007, in which one in five women reported being sexually assaulted since entering college.

The most vulnerable time is the first two months of the freshman year. In fact, to symbolize the danger, the first few months of the fall freshman semester are now commonly called the sexual assault “red zone.”

Most likely an attacker will be a friend or acquaintance. A study conducted by the National Institute of Justice, the research wing of the U.S. Department of Justice, found that 90 percent of college sexual assault victims knew their assailant.

The majority of assaults happen when one or both parties have consumed alcohol. Parents and students usually associate alcohol use with parties, and particularly fraternity parties. Rarely is the connection made about what happens when a student returns to the dorm after those parties.

Colleges and universities that receive federal funding (which is virtually all schools) are required under the Clery Act to compile and publish an annual report on the nature, date, time and place of crimes occurring on and off campus. On-campus crime reports must indicate whether the crime occurred in on-campus residential housing.

It is likely that campuses underreport sexual assault victims.

Rapes and “fondlings” are among the crimes that must be reported. Fondlings are defined as forcible and/or nonconsensual touching for sexual gratification. Nonconsensual situations include those in which the victim is incapacitated and thus unable to consent.

It is quite likely that the Clery Act reports significantly underrepresent the number of campus sexual assaults. In 2014, the combined total Clery Act reports from all U.S. colleges and universities was 4,971 reported rapes and 2,521 reported fondlings. Even if the data underreport the total number of sexual assaults, what they do show is where assaults happen.

Here’s what national Clery Act data show:

In 2014, 3,658 out of 4,971 (74 percent) of all reported rapes and 1,236 out of 2,521 (49 percent) of all reported fondlings occurred in on-campus residential housing. When looking only at on-campus occurrences, as opposed to the total of on- and off-campus occurrences, the percentages are even higher. Approximately 82 percent of all reported on-campus rapes (3,658 out of 4,464) and 53 percent of all reported on-campus fondlings (1,236 out of 2,330) occurred in campus housing.

These data are consistent with Clery Act reports from earlier years, which also show the majority of sexual assaults occurring in campus residential housing.

On-campus residential housing includes dorms, other student residences and fraternity and sorority houses owned or controlled by the university or located on university property. Under the Clery Act, schools do not need to distinguish between fraternity houses and dorms when reporting where sexual assaults happened.

However, a 10-year study looked at rapes and sexual assaults between 2001 and 2011 occurring on Massachusetts’ college and university campuses – including dorms, apartments and fraternity houses. The study found that 81 percent of all reported rapes and assaults occurred in the dorms, 9 percent occurred in houses or apartments and only 4 percent occurred in fraternity houses.

Why does knowing where assaults occur matter?

As my scholarship suggests, part of the sexual assault education process involves debunking myths and stereotypes.

Exposing the myth that most sexual assaults happen in fraternity housing, as well as educating students about the dangers of dorm-based assaults, raises awareness and allows students to take appropriate precautions.

Paying attention to the fact that most assaults occur in the dorms also allows targeted prevention measures. At the very minimum, given how many assaults occur early in the fall semester, parent and student summer orientation programs should include education about dorm-based assaults and appropriate preventative measures.

Schools may be reluctant to acknowledge and discuss where assaults are happening because they don’t want to frighten either parents or students. But the “see no evil” approach comes with significant risk of potentially preventable harm and liability.

Recently, parents of a young woman allegedly assaulted in her dorm filed a class action lawsuit against the University of Kansas.

The suit alleges KU violated the Kansas Consumer Protection Act when it solicited students through representations of its residence halls as “safe and secure” despite its knowledge that numerous students had sexually assaulted other students in its dorms.

The student herself filed a Title IX lawsuit against KU. Title IX protects against gender based discrimination with regard to educational opportunities. Her lawsuit rests mainly upon allegations about KU’s conduct after the assault report. However, it also alleges KU is liable for its failure to take reasonable steps to make the dorm safer in light of the data it had about dorm-based assaults.

Other lawsuits have been filed against colleges, alleging failure to warn of and protect students from the reasonably foreseeable danger of sexual assaults occurring in college dorm.

While colleges likely will refute allegations of wrongdoing, as KU has done in the suits against it, these suits lead to undesirable publicity and expenditure of university resources on litigation defense.

It’s sexual assault awareness month. When colleges fail to examine where assaults happen, they expose themselves to litigation. More importantly, they miss critical opportunities to explore solutions to the widespread campus sexual assault problem.

Schools should look closely at their own sexual assault reports and consider targeted solutions if there are particular dorms with a high incidence of assaults.

Studies should be conducted at the national level to examine overall patterns. Those studies should examine questions such as whether sexual assaults are more likely to occur in certain types of dorms, such as athlete dorms or even coed dorms. Studies should also look at whether it makes a difference if dorms are coed by floor, by hall or by room.

Using and building upon campus sexual assault location data brings the issue of where campus assaults occur into the open. It also adds an important component to the education and prevention discussion.

 

Reader Comments 0

28 comments
class80olddog
class80olddog

So if a man walks into a bar and comes out three hours later and gets in a car and drives drunk, we hold him responsible for his actions, but if a young lady drinks too much, she is not responsible for HER actions (saying yes when she meant to say no)?

redweather
redweather

@CGMontgo Thanks for posting this link. It sheds a little more light on this murky topic.

Another comment
Another comment

This article leaves out a lot of same sex experimentation in college that may be viewed by one party as consenting and the other as not. Now I went to college back in the days of single sex dorms.

I believe that the one Ga Tech case that went all the way and was overturned was two males.

I had a great roommate for the first two years, but she went and got married on me. Then back in Fall 1980, I got the female roommate from hell ( my best from from college is a Gay male who has been out since 78). But this girl was a slob, anti-social, took showers lasting less than 30 seconds. Then she decided to send the cute blonde freshman across the hall anomoous love letters, that she was her secret admirer. Totally, unwanted and unwarranted way to start freshman year for the girl across the hall. Several of us older students Sophmores and Juniors, plus my gay male best friend figured out it was my creeper roommate. We didn't know what she would do next. I told the RA who turned out to be a Closet case, and didn't see how these female sexaul advances were a problem. It was the same as having an unwelcome male stalker, but in this case she was allowed to live across the hall ( boys were not allowed). There were many very creepy things but in 1980 at a Catholic college some folks didn't want to believe it. I finally, had to have my dad call the resident life director, the RA got, removed, the freshman got the harassment stopped. I ended up with a single room in a better dorm on the other side of campus for the price of a double for the next two years.

My best friend, has recently told me that in these pre HIV days, expirmintation in the male dorms, especially certain floors, was rampant after a few drinks. That "Straight" guys would try and then deny or regret. He also told me that some of the "straight " guys were the aggressors at initiating male on male "rape" sex aka the "prison senecio".

I also know for a fact that Division I NCAA Women's sports have had a reputation of raping in culture of those who aren't gay. I have witnessed someone with a BasketBall scholarship to a top 4 women's program raped her in the locker room with Janitorial equipment because she wasn't gay. She walked away, took the bus and showed up at our dorm, sobbing, one of my floor mates played with her in Highschool.

HokeSmyth
HokeSmyth

RAPE CULTURE ON CAMPUS:Recently the Atlanta Newspaper put "Rape on Campus" on the front page, reporting on six large GA Colleges:

UGa = 36,578 students

GA State = 38,430 students

Kennesaw State = 29,270 students

GA Tech = 24,001 students

GA Southern = 23,819 students

Emory Univ. = 15,489 students

All six = 167,596 students

Six months of reporting, research, and Freedom of Information requests found. from 2010 to 2015,

at all six schools:

43 sexual misconduct complaints

22 of 43 found the accused responsible

21 of 43 found the accused not responsible

13 of the accused were suspended

8 of the accused were expelled

1 of the accused was put on probation

To summarize: 22 cases of sexual misconduct in five and one-half years at six campuses and 167,596 students.

To further summarize: The Rape Culture does not exist on these campuses.

Former DeKalb County District Atty. J. Tom Morgan says: "It's a sham.  These young men are being denied very basic protections so that schools can score political points."

Daniel McDowell
Daniel McDowell

what they dont tell you...they consider any type of sexual contact under the influence of drugs or alcohol....even consensual...to be sexual assault

Janet Venczak Reninger
Janet Venczak Reninger

This vulnerability was true back when I was a freshman in college (long time ago). Sad that some things remain the same.

Astropig
Astropig

Sorry, since the made up Rolling Stone rape hoax, I don't believe or trust any "point of view" pieces on this topic presented here. We're still owed an apology for the last one.



class80olddog
class80olddog

So someone answer this question:  if a man and a woman both get blind drunk and have "consensual" sex, is it still rape?  Are they both "raping" each other?  In how many instances of this type encounter is the woman charged with raping the man?   When my daughters went off to college, I made sure they knew the ditty "Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker" and they realized what dangers were related to alcohol over-consumption. 

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@class80olddog 

According to the recent ruling by the DOJ, in effect in 2015, if the female is drunk or incapacitated (drugs) then she cannot give knowing consent...so it counts as rape. See the Bill Cosby case.


(That's the law now. Protest all you want about "sexist double standards," but the guy should see she doesn't get "blind drunk.")

class80olddog
class80olddog

@OriginalProf @class80olddog My question remains: if the MALE is drunk or incapacitated and the girl has sex with HIM, does that constitute rape?  Or does rape only happen to females?

Astropig
Astropig

@class80olddog @OriginalProf

"My question remains: if the MALE is drunk or incapacitated and the girl has sex with HIM, does that constitute rape? "


Sure it does. I've bonded out several females over the years for sexual battery,rape and other crimes against a person.(Although none were students)


A sexual crime is a sexual crime.That's why we should respect the rule of law and be very careful about politicizing this subject.

CSpinks
CSpinks

Maureen, hush your mouth. You're going to get in trouble telling the Truth like this.

redweather
redweather

Twelve of UGA's twenty-two undergraduate dorms are coed and have unrestricted visitation 24/7. Does Professor Curcio have any numbers regarding sexual assault and visitation? Is it more or less prevalent, for example, in coed dorms? in large or small dorms?

Niobe
Niobe

Saying that most parents associate drinking with "fraternities" and rapes with "fraternity housing" continues a long-standing slur by this newspaper column.

Would it be fair to suggest parents think most rapists are black?

redweather
redweather

@Niobe Professor Curcio talks about the need to debunk myths regarding sexual assault. Pointing out one of those myths hardly constitutes a slur against fraternities.  Just the opposite.

Niobe
Niobe

@redweather @Niobe 

For whatever reason, Maureen has a vendetta against fraternities and sororities. And a mission to promote the notion that female students are "victims" and male students "predators" far more often than is actually the case:

http://tinyurl.com/q58h7pe

 

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@Niobe 

 What does this have to do with race? There are white fraternities as well as black ones.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@Niobe @redweather 

This link you supplied shows that "sexual assaults: college students are less likely to be victimized" (nothing there about fraternities specifically) and is based on DOJ data for the period 1995-2013.

class80olddog
class80olddog

@redweather @OriginalProf @Niobe Of course.  Here is the definition of rape in one study:  "

Rape is the unlawful penetration of a person against the

will of the victim, with use or threatened use of force,

or attempting such an act.

"  Notice this does not include victims who are not able to give "full consent" due to being inebriated.

Niobe
Niobe

@OriginalProf @redweather @Niobe 

You really think the latest figures would be all that much different?

And let's admit there's more than a little self-promotion going on in the article.

bu22
bu22

Go back to separate sex floors-or separate sex dorms!  I bet it happened a lot less frequently in those days.  But then some people can't figure out which sex they are and would sue.

Michelle Haberland
Michelle Haberland

Sexual assaults are the most frequently committed assault crimes across the USG, yet HB 859 specifically prohibits firearms from dorms. The bill makes no sense. It's opposed by every single university president and campus police chief. Parents, students, and faculty have told our elected representatives that we don't want campus carry. Call Governor Deal and ask him to VETO CAMPUS CARRY.