The heartbreaking truth about campus sexual assault

Sexual assault on campuses has dominated recent news. The new powerful Lady Gaga video, “Till It Happens To You,” describes in detail the trauma of sexual assault, as well as the devastation and loss of self-esteem that follow. The five minute movie by distinguished female filmmaker Catherine Harwicke, (who directed “Twilight” in 2008 and “Thirteen” in 2003) and Diane Warren composer of the song, a theme for a documentary about campus rape, “The Hunting Ground,” realistically speak about an experience many people would rather not face. But the prevalence of college rape demands attention. The Gaga video puts the violence—its suddenness, its horror and its unfortunate predictability—directly in your face.

Within hours of the release of the Gaga song, the results of the AAU Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct were published. The report delivers similar news. The survey of 150,000 participants—undergraduate, graduate and professional students from 27 campuses around the country— was a data sheet, the basis for the dramatic re-enactments in the short film.

About 12 percent of those surveyed said they had experienced nonconsensual sexual contact since they arrived on campus. It spiked for female undergraduates at just slightly over 23 percent and about five-and-a-half percent for undergraduate males. The study also found: “Incidents involving use of drugs and alcohol as tactics constituted a significant percentage of assaults and other misconduct.”

These numbers should surprise no one who has gone away to college in the last half century. If it didn’t happen to you, it happened to someone close to you. Maybe someone you’re close with. Someone who never told you about the incident at the time.

In both the Lady Gaga video and the survey there was a common element that is new though. Of the students in the survey more than 63 percent—an average, the actual range was 46 to 77 percent, depending on the school—believed it “extremely likely that the report would be taken seriously by campus officials”—something that has not always been true in the past.

The “bystander intervention,” which (kind) of occurs in the “Till It Happens to You” video, was also measured in the AAU survey: About 45 percent of participants said that they witnessed “a drunk person heading for a sexual encounter.” The witnesses reported most of the time they did nothing (77%), “weren’t sure what to do (23.5%),” or said “they did nothing for another reason (53.5%).”

While only 20 percent said they “witnessed someone acting in a sexually violent or harassing manner,” again the majority (54.5%) did nothing.

What would you do if you saw something was about to happen or had happened? What if the aggressor was bigger and stronger than you? What if you were an 18-year-old female freshman who felt lucky to be invited to the party? What if you were high? What if you were alone and scared?

Public opinion has advanced the conversation so many students now believe campus authorities will take complaints seriously. What you think and whether or not you speak out can make a difference. Take the Pledge.

Quick Escape