28% of women at one US college say they were sexually assaulted in high school

Even at a young age.
Even at a young age.
Image: AP Photo/Betsy Blaney
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Following a spate of high-profile sexual assault cases among US colleges, a new study (pdf via CNN) finds that many women are victimized before they even reach that stage of life.

Based on surveys of 483 female college freshmen at one US college before and throughout their freshman year, the researchers found that 18.6% of women had experienced an attempted or completed rape during their freshman year (including the summer after). An attempted rape means that the perpetrator used physical force, threats, or drugs in an attempt to have sex with a woman. The researchers did not ask how the attempted rapes had been prevented, study author Kate Carey tells Quartz. It’s possible that some were interrupted, or that the women managed to escape the situation.

Even before these women arrived at college, a total of 28% said they had been assaulted between the age of 14 and the start of college.

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The pre-college statistic (which notably encompasses a longer timeframe than the during-college statistic) suggests that sexual assault prevention efforts should start before college, and that women are at risk from a young age.

Granted, the study is not nationally representative, but the respondents do reflect the demographics of large campuses in the Northeastern US, Carey says. A 2009 US Department of Justice report (pdf, pg. 5) of American youth found similar results—16.3% of teens ages 14-17 reported having been sexually victimized in the past year. This harm is not all coming from adults; a 2012-2013 survey (pdf, pg. 70) of US high school students found that, of the students who dated someone in high school, 14.4% of girls and 6.2% of boys said they were sexually assaulted by someone they were dating (that study included unwanted touching and kissing, which the recent Brown study does not include). And a 2008 study found that about 12% of high school girls and 3% of high school boys surveyed in Michigan reported that they had been raped by a peer.

Given the findings, Carey advocates for educating American high school students about effective communication and diffusing dangerous situations early.