Sexual Assault at MIT

President Reif released the results of the task force on sexual assault at MIT a few minutes ago. In case you don’t want to read the whole thing (or even the summary), here’s the important part of the survey findings:

We received survey replies from 3,844 – or 35% – of our students. Because the survey was not a random sample and was voluntary, and the topic of unwanted sexual behaviors is focused, we know the results reflect a degree of self-selection. Since it is impossible to tell how this may have altered the results, it would be a mistake to use these numbers to generalize about the prevalence of unwanted sexual behavior in the lives of all MIT students.

Nevertheless, the survey clearly tells us that, like many other colleges and universities, we face a serious problem:

  • The national conversation has focused on the widely cited statistic that 19% of undergraduate women, or one in five, experience rape or sexual assault under conditions of force, threat or incapacitation [1]. At MIT, for those female undergraduates who responded to the survey, the comparable figure is nearly 17%.
  • Our survey asked questions designed to capture not only sexual assault by force, threat of harm, or incapacitation due to alcohol or drugs, but also to uncover a broader picture of unwanted sexual behavior in our community. Of all the students who responded to the survey — graduate and undergraduate, of all genders — 539 indicated that, while at MIT, they had experienced some type of unwanted sexual behavior, ranging from unwelcome verbal sexual conduct to rape, usually committed by someone they knew. Of those 539 respondents, 284 were undergraduate women.
  • Based on the survey responses, unwanted sexual behavior often occurs when students are in vulnerable states. Of all the students who indicated that they had experienced unwanted sexual behavior while at MIT, close to half said that they had been taken advantage of when they were incapacitated.

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