Several recent studies have repeatedly confirmed what plenty of survivors already know: Sexual assault is a prevalent, yet underreported, phenomenon on college campuses across the country. But a new study on students at nine schools, released by the Bureau of Justice Statistics on Wednesday, offered a novel finding with crucial potential to shape prevention efforts.
Overall, the study confirmed previous findings about the nature and prevalence of campus sexual assault. An average of 21% of female undergraduates reported experiencing sexual assault since their freshman year, and only 12.5% of rapes and 4.3% of sexual battery incidents were reported to designated authority figures, including law enforcement officials as well as campus administrators, according to the Huffington Post. Its findings echoed a large-scale AAU study published in 2015.
The new Bureau of Justice Statistics study also found that LGBT and nonheterosexual students reported experiencing higher rates of sexual assault than their heterosexual classmates, which previous studies have also confirmed.
The study also offered a revelatory finding: The prevalence of sexual assault varied significantly between these campuses. In fact, the rate of sexual assault at the school with the highest rate was nearly five times higher than the school with the lowest, and the rate of rape on some campuses is as much as double that at others, Scott Berkowitz, president and founder of RAINN, observed of the study.
"In the past, we've tended to view this as a problem that's pretty consistent across the board, but I think this is helping us to understand that there is a big difference from college to college," Berkowitz told Mic, adding that this finding is encouraging in that it demonstrates "some colleges are managing to have the lower rate of violence and are doing things that hopefully can be replicated elsewhere."
"We don't think a single statistic is of interest to universities trying to combat this problem," the report's lead author, Christopher Krebs, told the Huffington Post on Wednesday.
These results also bolster the potential value of passing the Campus Accountability and Safety Act, legislation that would require every school to conduct campus-specific surveys about sexual assault. As Sen. Marco Rubio, a co-sponsor of the legislation, told Inside Higher Ed in 2014, "Parents and students need to know that the difference in colleges isn't just in programs or graduation rates, but it's also in safety."
Additionally, considering that a recent study showed an incredible 91% of administrators still claim campus sexual assault and dating violence don't occur on their campuses, this survey might also do much to shape administrators' responses to this phenomenon. In fact, the survey revealed a relationship between college leaders who were perceived as handling the issue with strength and the overall level of violence at their school.
As Berkowitz concluded, "hopefully this will encourage those college presidents who have made this a priority, and encourage others who have been more reluctant, to see it as a wake up call."