The University of Michigan has just released the results of a commissioned survey studying sexual assault rates on campus. While The Detroit Free Press gravely summarized its findings as "20% of U-M female undergrads sexually assaulted," a closer look reveals that that figure includes everything from unwanted touching and kissing to being guilted into having sex.
From the survey:
While approximately 89% of U-M students said that they feel safe from sexual misconduct on the Ann Arbor campus, 11.4% of all students experienced some form of nonconsensual touching and kissing or oral, vaginal, or anal penetration – including 22.5% of undergraduate females and 6.8% of undergraduate males. The survey also found that 9.7% of all female students (graduate and undergraduate) experienced unwanted oral, vaginal, or anal penetration (compared to 1.4% of male students). In most cases, the unwanted sexual penetration occurred primarily after verbal pressure and under the influence of drugs or alcohol. "Verbal pressure" was described in the survey as "continually verbally pressuring you after you said they didn't want to. This includes telling lies, threatening to end the relationship, threatening to spread rumors about them, showing displeasure, criticizing your sexuality or attractiveness or getting angry but not using physical force." Fewer than 1% of students reported 5 nonconsensual penetration due to the use of physical force. "Physical force" was described as "holding you down with their body weight, pinning your arms or having a weapon."
The ideal rate of nonconsensual touching and kissing is of course zero. At U-M, it's 22.5 percent for undergraduate women. That's too high; no student should feel pressured into having sex, or put up with nonconsensual groping. It's worth considering what policies could reduce these problems and make the campus an even safer place for students.
All that said, just 1 percent of students endured the worst kind of sexual assault: forcible rape. This suggests to me that UM is not a uniquely dangerous place for women—indeed, as the survey acknowledges, non-student females are at greater risk of sexual assault than women in college.
For more on the subject of rape statistics, read Elizabeth Nolan Brown's analysis of the recent Washington Post study here.