Sexual assault on college campuses has become a national priority, with Vice President Joe Biden leading a task force on stopping it and even President Obama weighing in . Just how common is campus sexual assault, and what do students experience? The studies specific to college students have some limitations, but here's what we know.
1 in 5 women is raped during her lifetime, many when they're college aged.
Eighteen percent of women have experienced rape or attempted rape in her lifetime, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A much higher proportion, 45 percent, experienced other forms of sexual assault, such as unwanted touching or harassment, or were pressured into sex without the threat of violence.
Those statistics are from the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, which asked about 18,000 men and women about their experiences.
The CDC survey finds a higher rate of rape annually than another federal survey of crime victims, the National Crime Victimization Survey, which finds that about 1.3 women in every 1,000 are raped each year. (The CDC's rate is much higher, about 1 in 100.) The difference may be due to how the questions are asked, or who is doing the asking; the victims' survey didn't include the fact that sex can qualify as rape if one person involved is too incapacitated to consent.
Sexual assault is more common when students are drunk, drugged or otherwise incapacitated.
A 2007 Department of Justice study found about the same rate of sexual assault: one in five women, or 19 percent, is the victim of an attempted or completed sexual assault while in college. (Sexual assault includes both rape and unwanted sexual touching.)
The study distinguished between forced sexual assault (physical forced was employed or threatened) and incapacitated sexual assault (the victim couldn't consent because he or she was drunk, drugged or asleep). Incapacitated sexual assault was more than twice as common:
College women probably already knew their rapists.
Researchers found 24 percent of students who experienced forced sexual assault and 35 percent of those who experienced incapacitated sexual assault described the perpetrator as a friend. Nineteen percent of victims of forced sexual assault, and 17 percent of victims of incapacitated sexual assault, were on a date with their assailant.
Sexual assaults spike in the fall.
Sexual assaults are more likely to happen when students come back to campus. (Sexual assaults are also more common on weekends — perhaps because the survey found they were likely to occur at parties — and at night.)
Students who experience sexual assault are more likely to be in abusive relationships.
Among students who didn't experience sexual assault, 13 percent said they had been threatened or humiliated while in college by the person they were dating, and 4 percent said they had been physically hurt. The responses for students who had been assaulted were much higher: a majority said they had been threatened or humiliated and more than a quarter had been physically hurt.
Many women wouldn't describe what happened to them as rape.
A majority of students who survived forced rape said they considered what had happened to them as rape, but only a minority of survivors of incapacitated rape did so, researchers found. Those percentages exclude students who experienced unwanted sexual touching.
The survey described scenarios to people being interviewed what could have happened, but didn't assign a word to it; for example, students were asked if they'd ever had unwanted sexual content because someone used force or because they were unable to consent.