When asked, 31 percent of student respondents at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville said they'd been sexually assaulted since arriving on campus, according to a survey conducted by a UA professor last year.
Associate professor of Community Health Promotion Kristen Jozkowski's survey -- which drew from the responses of 1,000 predominantly white, female students -- indicated that UA-Fayetteville female students experience sexual contact without consent at twice the rate found by a school-sanctioned survey last year.
Jozkowski's research also showed a higher rate of unwanted sexual contact at UA than the nationwide average as derived from a 2016 U.S. Department of Justice report. However, the professor noted that a higher rate is to be expected at larger state schools like UA that have such things as large athletic programs, sororities and fraternities.
The assaults at UA-Fayetteville occurred during students' first years on campus 68.5 percent of the time, according to the anonymous survey responses.
"Sexual assault is a common experience at the University of Arkansas," Jozkowski told lawmakers at a meeting Thursday of the Arkansas Legislative Council's Higher Education Subcommittee. "This is consistent with other universities that are demographically similar to the UA."
The survey also found that none of the students who said they had been sexually assaulted ever reported those assaults to UA or Fayetteville police. Jozkowski attributed that to the stigma associated with being a victim of sexual assault and a lack of trust in the investigative process.
The findings come as the topic of sexual assault is at the forefront of national discourse after a wave of allegations regarding unwanted sexual advances by several prominent men in Hollywood and the media.
UA is also entangled in the issue. The school is in the middle of a Title IX lawsuit, in which a former student says the university acted with "deliberate indifference" after she reported being raped by another student in 2014. The case is before an appellate court. The school is arguing that it can't be sued for monetary damages.
Title IX is the federal law that bars sexual discrimination at federally funded schools, requiring them to adequately address sexual assault and harassment.
Jozkowski emphasized to lawmakers Thursday that her research also disproves the notion that many women falsely report sexual assault. Only 2.2 percent of students reported recanting their statements about unwanted sexual contact after telling someone, but none of them recanted because their accounts were untrue. Instead, the women reported walking back their statements because they felt threatened, afraid, embarrassed, stigmatized or thought it would harm a relationship.
Students were surveyed during the spring 2017 semester and last month, and an overwhelming number, including those who reported being assaulted, said they felt safe on campus.
About 28 percent of those surveyed lived on campus; 51.4 percent of the assaults occurred on campus.
Alcohol was consumed by the perpetrator and victim in 65.1 percent of the sexual assaults, the survey found.
Lawmakers at Thursday's hearing called the study "eye-opening" and asked Jozkowski what remedies could be pursued to decrease sexual assaults on Arkansas college campuses.
She said UA would likely benefit from additional resources to address the matter, adding that more resources are needed in many areas across higher education. Some changes need to come from a societal level, Jozkowski said.
Rep. James Sorvillo, R-Little Rock, asked if Jozkowski would recommend a more thorough sexual education curriculum in middle and high schools.
"I would say 110 percent," she said, adding that teens in states with robust sexual education programs become sexually active at later ages, have lower teenage pregnancy rates, and have better dialogue about consent and sexual violence.
Arkansas has one of the highest rates of teen pregnancy in the nation, and the state doesn't require any type of sex education in schools.
An Arkansas Democrat-Gazette survey last year found that nearly 85 percent of Arkansas' 262 public school districts teach some from of sexual abstinence, and 34 districts don't teach sex education at all.
"Here's another instance where we start in college as opposed to preparing them before they get there," Sen. Joyce Elliott, D-Little Rock, said during Thursday's meeting.
Jozkowski noted that campus sexual assault isn't new, and she and other researchers have found similar rates dating back to the 1950s.
"I think there's a heightened interest, which I'm really pleased to see nationally," she said. "But it's not a new problem. It's a problem that I think is getting the attention, perhaps, that it deserves."
Metro on 01/19/2018
Print Headline: Sex-assault poll called eye-opener; 31% of 1,000 respondents at UA reported unwanted contact