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Transgender Students Are Particularly Vulnerable To Campus Sexual Assault

A new report released Monday by the Association of American Universities found that 12 percent of students across 27 universities had reported experiencing sexual assault by force or incapacitation since enrollment, and that 17 percent of seniors had experienced this type of sexual assault while at college. The numbers are especially high for transgender and gender nonconforming students.

The report comes amid a nationwide push for better data regarding sexual assault on campus. But what might be its most illuminating aspect is its focus on the incidence of sexual assault experienced by gender nonconforming students. The report found that 19 percent of TGQN students (those who identified as transgender, genderqueer, nonconforming, questioning, or something not listed on the survey) were victims of sexual assault or misconduct last year, compared with 17 percent of female students and 4.4 percent of male students.

The survey is the first of its kind, and its inclusion of TGQN students is particularly significant given the lack of data we have on this group. We still know very little about the transgender and gender nonconforming population as a whole, though the data we have has shown that they’re particularly vulnerable to sexual assault. The 2011 National Transgender Discrimination Survey found that a significant number of respondents had experienced sexual assault at school; 12 percent said they had experienced sexual assault in a K-12 setting, and 3 percent of respondents attending college, graduate school, professional school or technical school said they had experienced sexual assault by other students, teachers or staff.

Nancy Deutsch, an associate professor at the University of Virginia who was on the team that helped create the AAU survey, said that although the report captures the overall numbers on sexual assault and sexual misconduct on college campuses, collecting the data on the TGQN population was of particular importance. “We wanted to make sure we were capturing the incidence without regard to the gender of the survivor or perpetrator, and to make sure we were able to capture as broadly as we could,” she said. “Information about the TGQN student population hasn’t been as well known, so that was our goal.”

The report is based on a survey of 150,072 students, 1,398 of whom identified as TGQN. It found that TGQN students were the most likely to experience sexual assault involving physical force or incapacitation1 while enrolled in college, at 24.1 percent of TGQN undergraduates and 15.5 percent of TGQN graduate/professional students. Comparatively, 23.1 percent of female undergraduates and 8.8 percent of female graduate/professional students had experienced this type of sexual assault, while 5.4 percent of male undergraduates and 2.2 percent of male graduate/professional students had experienced it.

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The survey drew criticism for, among other reasons, the AAU’s decision to release only aggregate data, leaving it up to individual universities to release their own. But the vast majority of the participating universities, such as the University of Virginia, which was the centerpiece of the controversial and ultimately retracted Rolling Stone story “A Rape On Campus,” chose to use the survey as a means of increasing transparency on the issue and have released their own data. (The Washington Post has each school’s individual report.) UVA’s data showed statistics comparable to the report’s aggregate numbers.

“We’re absolutely already using the results [of the report] to think about how to inform our policies, procedures and educational outreach regarding sexual misconduct,” Deutsch said. “There were areas where they [TGQN students] seemed to have potentially higher rates of experiences with sexual misconduct, so we’ll do more outreach and work with the LGBTQ Center to address that and provide more outreach.”


  1. The survey also asked about nonconsensual sexual contact that was the result of “coercive threats of non-physical harm or promised rewards, and failure to obtain affirmative consent.” The report differentiated sexual assault involving physical force or incapacitation as being sexual assault according to the law and the other two as sexual misconduct according to universities’ policies.

Hayley Munguia is a former social media editor and a data reporter for FiveThirtyEight.