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September 30, 2015

Survey: Victims reluctant to report sexual assault at Penn

Campus Climate survey finds most victims don't feel incidents are serious enough to report

07032015_university_of_penn_Thom Thom Carroll, File/PhillyVoice

Students walk on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania.

Nearly a third of women at the University of Pennsylvania say they have experienced sexual assault, yet the majority did not report these incidents because they felt it was not serious or important enough, according to the latest Campus Climate survey by the American Association of Universities.

According to the survey, 27 percent of female undergraduates said they were victims of "nonconsensual penetration or sexual touching involving physical force or incapacitation" since they began college. By senior year, however, just 30.7 percent of those women reported assaults to police or university officials.

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The survey suggested that Penn students as a whole do not feel this issue is specific to Penn's culture or that the university is unwilling to defend victims of sexual assault. Just 4.1 percent of Penn students "believe sexual assault or misconduct is a problem" at the university, while 4.5 percent said there is a likelihood they will experience it.

Jessica Murtz, Penn's director of student sexual violence prevention and education, told The Daily Pennsylvanian that part of the reason women at Penn don't report these experiences to the university could be their particular view of what "reporting" means.

“In my experience, part of the reason is that students have an idea of what, in their head, they think what reporting means, and it’s very different from what it actually looks like and what the options actually are. Reporting doesn’t have to look like going to the police, necessarily; it could be different depending on what the person’s needs are.”

Some students may choose to seek support privately from family and friends. At Penn, they can confidentially join the Women's Center support group for a semester or file an official complaint with the university's sexual violence investigator.

The national AAU survey, which polled more than 150,000 students at 27 American universities, received an overall response rate of 19 percent. While that was lower than other comparable surveys, an assessment of non-response rate bias found that non-participation meant those who don't respond tend to be less likely to report victimization. Of those who responded, women did so at a higher rate (22.9 percent) than men (15.6 percent).

Across all 27 universities, more than 50 percent of the victims of the most serious incidents said they did not report the event because they did not consider it “serious enough.”

The results come after the family of former UPenn student Arya Singh filed a lawsuit against the university, and a cyanide vendor in connection to her 2013 suicide. In the lawsuit, the family alleges that university employees were "unsympathetic, hostile and at times vindictive" toward Singh after she reported an alleged sexual assault by a male student to campus authorities in 2011.