But the vast majority of the students do not report the incidents to police or university authorities, Dr Tim Jordan told the British Psychological Society's conference in London yesterday.
Dr Jordan, of Oxford Brookes University, studied 2,217 students and found that 7 per cent had been victims while at college. Of these 38 per cent were in their first year, 27 per cent in their second, 21 per cent in their third year and 9 per cent in their fourth year.
"While the vast majority told someone - 90 per cent a friend - a staggeringly small number reported the incident to the police," Dr Jordan said. The figures for reporting were only 6 per cent of rapes, 12 per cent of indecent assaults and 39 per cent of indecent exposures.
The researchers discovered that among those attacked as students, there were 20 cases of rape, 69 cases of assault and 83 cases of indecent exposure. They also studied students who had been victims before starting university. Here they found that 103 hadbeen raped, 345 had been assaulted and 384 had been exposed to.
This meant that 36 per cent of the total had been victims at some time.
"What we need to look at is the number of repeat victims. It may be to do with the fact that most of them are in the younger age groups . . . who may be inexperienced and find it difficult to get in and out of relationships," Dr Jordan said.
Julia Watson, also working on the project, said they were beginning to explore levels of violence in the families of the repeat victims. They wanted to know if this group permitted higher levels of violence before protesting, she said. There may also be predator males on the lookout for vulnerable women.
The research threw up marked differences between what women thought they would do after an attack and what they really did. More than 80 per cent who had never been victims said they would report the attack to the police. But when it avctually came to rape only 6 per cent (representing just one case) was in fact reported.
Dr Jordan said that knowledge of and attitudes to police suggested there was "considerable scope for intervention".
"We have to try to understand the victim's responses and to seek possible routes into breaking the cycle of silence," he said.
nGloomy television news broadcasts increase viewers' anxiety. Instead of putting personal problems into proportion, bad news makes matters worse, psychologists have discovered.
The BBC news presenter Martyn Lewis, who appealed for more "good news", was right even though he could not have guessed that bad news would make people feel worse about their own lives, Professor Graham Davey, of Sussex University, told the conference.
Students were given three news videos to watch, one giving good news, the second neutral, and the third bad. "There were dramatic increases in sadness and anxiety in the group that watched the bad news," Professor Davey said.
However, the subjects did not become more concerned about events; instead, their own worries grew, sometimes to catastrophic proportions.