One-third of female students 'sexually assaulted'

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The Independent Online
(First Edition)

ONE-THIRD of female university students say they have been sexually assaulted at some time, according to a study carried out in Oxford.

However, researchers at Oxford Brookes University concluded that women students were no more likely to have suffered sexual attack, indecent exposure or rape than women in society as a whole.

A total of 2,217 women at both Oxford University and Oxford Brookes, the city's former polytechnic, responded to a confidential survey commissioned by Thames Valley Police.

Only 158 had suffered such attacks while they were at university, though 732 had experienced them at some time in their lives. Twenty women said they had been raped while at university, but only one told the police.

More than half the offences against students were of indecent exposure, while 44percent were indecent assaults.

Dr Tim Jordan, reader in psychology at Oxford Brookes University and one of the report's authors, said six out of 10 women who did not report rapes said they had not come done so because of 'institutional reasons' they distrusted the police or were afraid of having to relive their experience in court. Many of the victims knew their attackers and some kept quiet because they feared reprisals or blamed themselves for what had happened.

When questioned about whether or not they would report an attack, nine out of 10 respondents who had not been victims themselves said they would go to the police. However, those who had been attacked had rarely done so. Six per cent of rape victims had told the police, along with 12 per cent of assault victims and 39 per cent of exposure victims.

Students who had been attacked were most likely to turn to friends, with nine out of 10 choosing this course. About one-third went to their families while only a small percentage went to a university tutor or a support organisation.

Dr Jordan said women students were no more at risk than other women but the message had to be put across to all potential victims that there were sensitive, sympathetic professionals available to help them.

'University is not a terrible place in fact it is is probably safer than the outside world. But if you are in that situation, there are places to go to, there are counselling services. Most people are just unaware of the services that are available.

'Sexual assault is a pervasive problem in society and there is no reason why it should be different here,' he said.

Detective Sergeant Henry Wymbs, of Thames Valley Police, said the numbers of women who did not report attacks were worryingly high.

'We are a little bit disturbed in that it is probably a bit more than we thought, but a significant bar to reporting is that a high proportion of the attackers are known to their victims and it is personal and embarassing,' embarrassing,' he said.