What Is the Acceptable Rate of Sexual Assault on Campus?

What Is the Acceptable Rate of Sexual Assault on Campus?

According to a recently released Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll, 20 percent of women in college were sexually assaulted in the past four years. This is consistent with numbers released by the Department of Justice.

In the comments section of any article citing this statistic, some people invariably claim it’s inflated and part of the “myth of an epidemic of sexual assault on campuses.” Many refer to the National Crime Victimization Survey, which looks at sexual assault of all women ages 18-24 and determines that women outside of college are assaulted more frequently than those in college, as if this somehow makes the campus assaults less relevant. Results of NCVS also show a lower incidence of sexual assault in large part because the survey sample included adults taking online classes as well as 18 year-olds living on campus.

Numbers get massaged, statistics get cherry picked, and we parents are left wondering how dangerous the college environment really is. When detractors dismiss the incidence of campus sexual assault, it raises the question of what is an acceptable rate.

The most recent data from the U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, indicates approximately 1 million female high school graduates will enter college this fall. Right behind them, another million high school seniors will make final decisions about which schools to apply to, and another million will begin their college search.

Based on the DOJ statistics and reinforced by the Post-Kaiser poll, 20 percent of these three million girls will be sexually assaulted during their time in college. That’s 600,000 young women. But even if the reality were only half the cited statistic, that’s 300,000 young women victimized by sexual violence; if the reality were only one-quarter of the statistic, we’re still talking about 150,000 young women.

Some people will continue to dispute the statistic of 1 in 5. But can they dispute the fact that unacceptable numbers of young women are victims of on-campus sexual assault?

View articles and stories by Keep Her Safe about sexual assault on college campuses. Keep Her Safe’s goal is to encourage colleges to create stricter policies on campus sexual assault prevention and punishment.


Sheri Heitker Dixon is the founder of Keep Her Safe, a non-profit organization committed to making college campuses safe from sexual assault.

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