By Steve Bittenbender
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (Reuters) - Nearly 5 percent of students at the University of Kentucky say they were sexually assaulted in the past year, but most of the cases went unreported, according to a survey conducted by the college.
The White House has declared sex crimes an “epidemic” on U.S. college campuses, with one in five students falling victim to sexual assault during their college years.
Officials across the country have placed greater focus on sexual assaults of college students, especially as a number of cases involving college athletes have been investigated or prosecuted in the last year.
In the University of Kentucky survey, released on Monday, the school asked students about unwanted experiences, using federally defined guidelines to include voluntary or involuntary incapacitation due to drugs or alcohol and the threat of physical force or harm. Using that criteria, 1,053 students reported such incidents, with most taking place away from the school’s Lexington campus.
More than 24,000 students responded to the survey, including about 21,500 to the question about whether they were sexually assaulted, the school said.
University of Kentucky said it had more than 30,000 students enrolled in the most recent school year.
Of those who could identify their assailant, nearly three-quarters of the attackers were fellow students and another 3 percent were university employees. Of all the cases that either took place at the school or involved another university individual, only 30 cases were reported to either campus or Lexington police officers, and 114 were reported to other university agencies.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, the university reported 13 forcible sexual offense cases in 2013, compared with just one in the year prior and five in 2011.
The survey is part of a five-year plan by University President Eli Capilouto to assess safety on the campus and promote schoolwide change regarding student violence and abuse. It also will help the school present more accurate crime-reporting data to federal officials.
Capilouto said the school has already taken steps to improve procedures in reporting and introduce programs to combat sexual assaults.
“Because we surveyed the entire student population, we have a clearer understanding of our strengths and areas where we need to improve,” he said.
(Reporting by Steve Bittenbender in Louisville, Kentucky; Editing by Ben Klayman and Jeffrey Benkoe)