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Did Princeton Hide a Damaging Rape Survey?

Our friends at Jezebel.com don’t always have a lot to say that we agree with here at the Fix, but we saw a story this week that caught our attention. Jezebel’s Katie Baker writes about a sexual assault survey at Princeton University that could have you shaking your head in disbelief:

One in six female Princeton undergraduates said they experienced “non-consensual vaginal penetration” during their time at the University, according to an unpublished survey from 2008 — as in five years ago — that was recently leaked to The Daily Princetonian. The numbers suggest that rates of sexual assault and sexual harassment on campus may be significantly higher than the rates at which they are actually reported or adjudicated.

Baker accuses Princeton of trying to hide the embarrassing results of the survey. This sort of sweep-it-under-the-rug mentality wouldn’t be without precedent. The College Fix reported last week that a Department of Education spokesperson said that Yale, Princeton’s Ivy League peer institution, had under-reported cases of sexual assault “for a very long time.” Universities, in general, don’t go out of their way to publicize campus sex crimes.

It’s obvious why elite universities would be less-than-thrilled about the prospect of publishing just how common sexual assault is on their campuses. Take the Princeton survey, for example: A young woman having a 15% chance of being raped during her four years at a university isn’t the sort of thing that makes for an appealing recruitment statistic.

The Princetonian provides more details on the previously unpublished report, which was originally conducted in 2008, but was just now leaked to the student paper:

According to the survey, more than 28 percent of female undergraduate students reported that they were touched in a sexual manner or had their clothes removed without consent. About 12 percent said they were forced to receive or perform oral sex, and an additional 14 percent were said they were victims of attempted forced oral sex. Another 6.2 percent of female undergraduate respondents said they experienced attempted non-consensual vaginal penetration.

Of the 809 female undergraduates who filled out the undergraduate female survey, more than 120 answered affirmatively to the statement, “A man put his penis into my vagina, or someone inserted fingers or objects without my consent.”

Truly disturbing. Lost in these statistics is the often damaging role that alcohol abuse plays in cases of sexual assault. Being drunk is never an excuse for assault of any kind, but it does impair judgement and lower inhibitions–it’s a contributing factor. And the line between “drunk sex” and “date rape” is often at the point where an alcohol-fueled, consensual make-out session or hook-up goes suddenly beyond the lines of consent.

Very often, campus rape is not a case of a an attack by a stranger, it’s an attack by an acquaintance–an attack by someone familiar. This adds a unique layer of trauma for the young woman who is attacked because they may find themselves still going to class with the guy afterward, still encountering him in the halls. Sadly, I hear about this kind of thing all the time.

One would think that an elite university would be a relatively safe place for a young woman to be. I don’t know why Princeton officials chose not to publish the results of their 2008 survey. But if the Princeton survey is even remotely accurate, it ought to make us disgusted with the state of sexual mores in our society. It’s infuriating that so much sexual assault occurs on our campuses–most of it unpunished.

Nathan Harden is editor of The College Fix and author of SEX & GOD AT YALE: porn, political correctness, and a good education gone bad.

Like The College Fix on Facebook. / Follow Nathan on Twitter @NathanHarden

(Image by RobGallop/Flickr)

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