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A first-of-its-kind study of more than 500 male students in the United Kingdom has uncovered a disturbing finding: Dozens of students admitted to committing more than 250 “illegal sexual acts”—including sexual assault, attempted rape, and rape.
The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Kent, included two separate surveys. The first solicited responses from students at 100 UK universities, while the second looked at students from one school in southeast England. In both surveys, between 10 and 13 percent of students self-reported having committed sexually aggressive acts.
Of those respondents, a significant chunk reported that they had committed such acts multiple times.
Most of these acts were perpetrated against women, although a few men admitted to having male victims. Across both studies, the most common offense that the men admitted to was sexual coercion.
The researchers also sought to delve into the psyches of these men—a first in the UK. Those who self-reported having been sexual aggressive were also recorded as being hostile toward women, having “atypical sexual fantasies” that may traffic in sadomasochism, and belief in what the researchers called “rape myth”—such as the false idea that “if a girl doesn’t say ‘no,’ she can’t claim rape.”
“Perpetrators were significantly more likely to endorse offense-excusing myths associated with rape, e.g. victims are to blame for being assaulted, and to have more negative sexist and hostile views about women, e.g. believing that many of their troubles were the fault of women, and to report sexually fantasizing more about harmful, such as physically hurting their sexual partner when they didn’t have consent to do so,” study co-author Samuel Hales, a researcher at the University of Kent’s Centre of Research and Education in Forensic Psychology, told the Guardian.
That finding, according to the researchers, suggests that if universities want to reduce the risk of sexual assaults on their campuses, they should put male students through initiatives that “target their negative and derogatory beliefs.” They should also craft programs that work to dismantle myths about rape.
The findings in the U.K. study mirrors research conducted in other countries, including the United States. In the U.S., researchers have also found that acceptance of rape myths, hostility towards women, and “atypical sexual fantasies that center on coercive, controlling, or illicit sexual behaviors” are all strongly linked to men’s sexual aggression.
More than 60 percent of university students and recent graduates have experienced sexual violence, including harassment and assault, according to a 2018 survey by the advocacy group Revolt Sexual Assault and website The Student Room that collected responses from nearly 5,000 students. Of that number, just 6 percent said that they’d reported it to the school. And large swathes of respondents said that, on university campuses, there are attitudes that sexualize and objectify women, spread the idea that people falsely report rape, and blame victims.