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One in four Penn women say they've been sexually assaulted

Despite the University of Pennsylvania's efforts to educate students about sexual assault, a majority of students surveyed recently said they did not know where to find help on campus if they or a friend became a victim.

Despite the University of Pennsylvania's efforts to educate students about sexual assault, a majority of students surveyed recently said they did not know where to find help on campus if they or a friend became a victim.

Penn president Amy Gutmann called that finding and others highlighted in a national survey on sexual assault at some of the nation's most elite colleges "deeply troubling."

"We clearly must do more, beginning immediately, to make all students aware that they have immediate recourse for help," Gutmann said in an email to the Penn community shortly after the national results were released.

Nationally, slightly more than one in 10 students reported that he or she had been sexually assaulted by force, threat of force, or incapacitation due to drugs, alcohol, or other factors, according to survey findings released Monday by the Association of American Universities. That includes nearly one in every four women surveyed and 5 percent of men.

Penn's numbers closely mirrored the average. Nearly 27 percent of female undergraduates reported that they had been assaulted, including unwanted sexual touching, since they entered Penn. About 5 percent of male undergraduates said the same.

The highest rates were for freshmen.

In comparison, 24 percent of University of Virginia undergraduate women said they were the victims of nonconsensual sexual contact, and at both the University of Michigan and the University of Southern California, the number was 30 percent.

"We must not and we will not rest until we effectively tackle this problem as a campus community," Gutmann wrote.

Matthew Lisle, a 2015 Penn graduate and a recent winner of the Penn president's engagement prize, said that although he had seen results of previous surveys that noted a high prevalence of female assault victims, the 27 percent figure was shocking.

"What it says is that there's a significant problem that has failed to be addressed," said Lisle, 23, a mechanical engineering grad from Bryn Mawr. "What we're using to address it isn't working."

Shawn Kelley, opinion editor of the Daily Pennsylvanian, the student newspaper, said he thinks that if more students actually had taken the survey, the percentage of female undergraduates reporting sexual assault would have been higher.

"At least half of my female friends have talked about having an encounter," said Kelley, 38, a junior from California majoring in Japanese and history. Kelley is enrolled in Penn's program for nontraditional age students, but made clear he was referring to traditional female undergraduates.

The survey, billed as one of the largest on campus sexual violence, included 150,000 students at 27 universities. Penn was the only local institution. The association said leaders of its universities sought the survey so they could get a better handle on student attitudes about sexual assault and the severity of the problem on their campuses.

Few students report assaults, the survey found, primarily because they think the incidents are not serious enough, the report stated.

At Penn, one in five students said they had no idea where to get help if they or a friend experienced a sexual assault, and nearly another third said they had only "a little bit" of knowledge. That's despite the fact that well over half of the students said they knew of services provided by public safety, the counseling center, and student health services.

Less than half of female students surveyed at Penn said they thought it was "very or extremely likely" that a report of sexual assault would be taken seriously at the university. Only about a third of females thought the university would conduct a fair investigation.

Penn's survey also found:

Among students reporting that they had witnessed a drunken person heading for a sexual encounter, 82 percent said they did nothing.

One in five students reported that they had witnessed someone acting in a sexually violent or harassing manner, and 58 percent of those said they did nothing,

Nearly half the students surveyed said they had been subject to sexual harassment. Two-thirds of female undergraduates said they were subject to sexual harassment.

The survey was conducted in April and May of this year. It drew a 19 percent response rate among the 27 universities, which association officials said they would have liked to have been higher. At Penn, which offered students cash prizes and gift cards to participate, the rate was better - nearly 27 percent, or about 6,400 students, participated.

Richard Gelles, a Penn professor of social policy, panned the survey, citing its 19 percent response rate.

"For a professional journal, my most generous cutoff would be 50 percent," said Gelles, a specialist in conducting surveys on sensitive topics.

Gelles said the only way to secure a solid response is to make contact in person or by phone, rather than email.

At Penn, Gutmann said the university would be arranging meetings across campus to figure out what additional steps to take.

The survey results may be seen at 215-854-4693