In a disturbing finding, about one in six female undergraduates at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) said they had been sexually assaulted at the university, but only 5 per cent reported the crime, according to results of an anonymous survey. In total, 539 students said that they had experienced any kind of sexual misconduct while at MIT, ranging from unwelcome verbal sexual conduct to rape; these acts were usually committed on campus by someone they knew, the survey results released by MIT said.
Of those 539 individuals, 284 were undergraduate women while 102 were graduate female students. 94 undergraduate males and 49 graduate males also said they encountered sexual misconduct while at MIT. Ten transgenders too said they faced sexual assault while in MIT, the survey said. These behaviours often occur when students are in vulnerable states, the survey said. Of the 539 students who indicated that they had experienced such behavior at MIT, close to half said that someone took advantage of them while they were drunk, high, asleep, or otherwise impaired, it said.
In an e-mail to the MIT campus community, university president L Rafael Reif said he was disturbed by the extent and nature of the problem reflected in the survey results. Sexual assault violates our core MIT values, Reif wrote. I am confident that, with this shared understanding and armed with this new data, the MIT community will find a path to significant positive change. About 3,800 students responded to the survey, which was launched in spring this year. In all, about 10,800 students were invited to participate, the MIT said on its website.
The chief finding of the student climate survey that 17 per cent of female undergraduate respondents said they had been assaulted while enrolled at MIT coincides approximately with a nationwide estimate of campus sexual assaults by the US Justice Department, the Boston Globe reported. That survey, released in 2007, found that about 19 per cent of female students have been victims of sexual violence. In February, after an MIT alumna wrote in the school newspaper about being raped as a student several years before, Reif declared sexual assault prevention a priority for the school.
MIT also announced several steps yesterday to try to address the issue, including increasing staffing to respond to victims; finding new ways to inform students about where to turn for help, removing barriers to reporting, launching a Sexual Assault Education and Prevention Task Force and increasing education for students. With its comprehensive survey, MIT became the highest- profile college to put such a specific estimate on the prevalence of sexual violence on campus, amid heightened national attention on the issue, the report said.
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