More Rapes Reported at UConn Than Other Colleges in U.S.; New Study Finds Attitudes Toward Women Key In Higher Rates of Sexual Assault By College Athletes

Whether the number is interpreted as reflecting growing confidence in university adjudication systems, or a growing problem, there were 43 rapes reported at the University of Connecticut in 2014.  Nearly 100 colleges and universities had at least 10 reports of rape on their main campuses, according to federal campus safety data for that year, with UConn and Brown University in Rhode Island  tied for the highest annual total — 43 each. The release of the data comes as:

  • a new study suggests an alarming frequency of students – especially college athletes - coercing a partner into sex, and
  • the sentencing in California of a student athlete to a six month jail term for sex-related crimes, a sentence widely criticized for its brevity.

An on-line survey of 379 college men found that more than half of athletes and a more than 38 percent of non-athletes admitted to coercing a partner into sex.  Researchers surveyed male college students from one large, public, Division I university in the Southeast and asked about a list of sexually coercive behaviors — including threatening partners into oral or anal sex — almost all of which met the legal definition of rape.

The study was published in the journal Violence Against Women last week, with the researchers analysis showing “significant differences between the responses of athletes and non-athletes.”

The UConn data was announced last fall; the comparison with other universities was made public this week.  In an editorial, the UConn Daily Campus, the student newspaper, said “If students made targets of sexual abuse and harassment feel they can come forward and at least somewhat trust their university’s administration to appropriately address their situations, that speaks volumes on the progress the school is making as a bureaucracy and, most paramount, as a culture.”student

UConn spokeswoman Stephanie Reitz said the university “works very hard to cultivate a culture of forthrightness so this traditionally under-reported crime can be addressed and our students receive appropriate services and support.”

During the 2012-13 school year, UConn disclosed 13 reported rapes. That number increased to 18 the next year and to 43 last school year.  The number of reports of dating violence increased from eight in 2013-14 to 26 the following year, and the number of reports of stalking more than quadrupled, from 6 to 30.

New stories indicated that the highest number of reports occurred at Brown: 43; UConn: 43; Dartmouth College: 42; Wesleyan University: 37; and University of Virginia: 35. Yale had 13 reported rapes; Trinity had 12; SCSU had 9; Connecticut College had 8; Quinnipiac had 5; Fairfield had 4; University of New Haven had 4; University of Saint Joseph had 3; University of Bridgeport had 3; and WCSU, ECSU, CCSU and University of Hartford all had 1, according to published reports.

In April, UConn officials released the results of a survey designed to measure the problem of sexual violence on campus, and it indicated that students there feel safe, FOX61 reported. About 1,500 of 6,000 students responded to the anonymous survey, and 82 percent said they felt safe. Of the respondents, 5.5 percent said they'd been sexually asscourtaulted.

UConn was pointedly criticized two years ago from a group of students who alleged their complaints of sexual assault were not handled properly. The university later paid $1.3 million to settle the lawsuit filed by those students and made numerous changes to improve how students are treated when they come forward.  At the time, UConn was one of 67 higher education institutions under review by the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights due to its handling of sexual assault cases.violence_against_woman_cover

Last week a former Stanford swimmer was sentenced to six months in jail and three years of probation for sexually assaulting a woman outside a fraternity party in 2015. The sentence, far more lenient than what prosecutors sought, provoked public outrage and drew renewed attention to an issue that in recent years has brought controversy and concern on campuses nationwide, including UConn.

The athletes included in the study were mostly those who play recreational, not intercollegiate, sports.  “What we see in this study speaks to a larger issue than just the high-profile and sensational reports we hear about,” Sarah Desmarais, an associate professor of psychology at North Carolina State University and the study’s co-author, told the publication. “There are some attitudes and beliefs prevalent among all kinds of male athletes that seem to be leading to high levels of sexually coercive behavior.”

For this study, the researchers surveyed online 379 male undergraduates: 191 non-athletes, 29 intercollegiate athletes and 159 recreational athletes. The study was conducted by researchers at NC State, the University of South Florida, Northern Arizona University and Emory University.

“We found that 54.3 percent of the intercollegiate and recreational athletes and 37.9 percent of non-athletes had engaged in sexually coercive behaviors – almost all of which met the legal definition of rape,” Desmarais said, in a published report on the NC State website.  “As high as these numbers are, they may actually under-represent the rates of sexual coercion, since the study relied on self-reported behavior,” Desmarais said.

The Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation published in June 2015 a national poll that found one in five women who attended a residential college during a four-year span said they had been sexually assaulted. Those findings have been reinforced by surveys at several prominent research universities, the Post reported.