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How the University of Kentucky Tackled Underreporting Of Sexual Assault On Campus

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This past March, University of Kentucky students were required to fill out a survey. The online questionnaire took roughly 15 to 20 minutes to complete. It asked students about their perceptions and experiences regarding sexual assault, bullying, sexual harassment and stalking, among other things.

Surveys like this aren’t uncommon — especially as a national conversation about sexual assault on college campuses continues to grow.

What's unusual is that UK got all of its students to weigh in. In total, more than 24,000 people took part in the survey.

Diane Follingstad, director of the Center for Research on Violence Against Women at UK, said she thinks this year’s survey on sexual assault is unique.

“As best we understand, we do not know of another survey at a university that includes all their students,” she said.

According to the survey’s findings, almost 5 percent of UK students said they were sexually assaulted in the past year. Very few of those students said they reported those assaults to authorities.

In total, 1,053 students said they were sexually assaulted within a one-year period. Compare that to previous numbers: According to the Lexington Herald-Leader, during the “2013-2014 school year, UK reported 12 sexual assaults on campus in a federally mandated report … that same year, 67 people reported sexual assaults to the UK VIP Center."

A report from the U.S. Department of Justice found that “fewer than 5 percent of college women who are victims of rape or attempted rape report it to police.”

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“In one study, over 40 percent of those raped who did not report the incident said they did not do so because they feared reprisal by the assailant or others,” the same DOJ report found. “Low reporting, however, ensures that few victims receive adequate help, most offenders are neither confronted nor prosecuted, and colleges are left in the dark about the extent of the problem.”

The UK numbers are drastically higher this year for a lot of reasons. The biggest, though, is this: Until now, the school has had to rely on information that was volunteered. Follingstad explained that volunteered data is not always representative.

“A survey that goes out to a campus is relying on whomever is willing to complete it,” she said. “There is always a concern that samples are skewed.”

That’s why campus officials decided the survey should go out to entire student body. Making that happen took some work.

At first there was a PR campaign alerting students of the survey. They were given incentives, such as a raffle for a parking pass.

Then the survey became a condition for registration or obtaining a transcript. Much like not paying a parking fee or returning a library book could hold up a student’s ability to sign up for classes, not filling out the online survey would become a hold.

Follingstad said relying on numbers from campus police and school counselors was just not enough. She said UK President Eli Capilouto’s office decided it was time to get the most accurate information possible.

“There is a real frustration is terms of, ‘Well what is the problem here — how prevalent is it?’” she said.

And this problem is nationwide problem, which is why Follingstad said she thinks other schools across the country will be looking at Kentucky’s numbers.

“I am thinking that there will be people looking at Kentucky’s data very closely,” she said. “And then when they do their survey that has volunteers they are going to be saying, ‘Now how does my data look compared to Kentucky’s?’”

UK plans to continue administering its Campus Attitude Towards Safety Study over the next few years.

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