In this case, two is WAY too many. Last spring, 288 student-athletes at Kansas University responded to a survey about various topics. Included on the survey were a number of questions about sexual harassment and assault.
The results have KU officials rightfully concerned. The university has more than 500 student-athletes. Of the 288 who responded, three said they had been sexually assaulted by another student and six said they had been assaulted by fellow athletes. Both of those numbers are disturbing, but not as disturbing as the third figure. Two of the students responding to the survey said they had been assaulted by members of KU's faculty or staff.
Statistically, the number is small. Two students represent less than 1 percent of those surveyed. But two cases in which students were sexually assaulted by university faculty or staff is two too many.
Sexual assault was defined in the survey as forced intercourse, acquaintance rape or other forms of nonconsensual sexual activity all serious accusations. Students also were asked about incidents of sexual harassment, defined as unwanted sexual advances, requests for sexual favors or sexually suggestive comments. The survey showed 6.2 percent said they had been sexually harassed by other students, 7.3 by other student-athletes and 1.4 percent (four students) by faculty or staff.
It's possible that the students filling out the survey exaggerated the incidents in question or even outright lied, but university officials can't afford to assume that the survey results don't accurately reflect the situation that students face.
Did the KU athletics department suspect it had a problem with sexual harassment and assault before the survey was taken? The questionnaire was distributed to student-athletes shortly before sexual assault allegations against two KU football players were made public. But the survey was suggested by a student-athlete in response to reports she heard from other students while volunteering in the Emily Taylor Women's Resource Center.
The director of the women's center said she didn't "think the numbers were unusually high, but any sexual assault or sexual harassment needs to be taken seriously."
That's sort of a good news-bad news situation. It's good to know that the problem in the athletics department isn't notably worse than for the rest of the university, but it's disturbing to know that the overall numbers may be that high. If 0.7 percent of the entire KU student body would report an incident of sexual assault by a faculty or staff member, that is, indeed, an alarming number.
The KU athletics department is acting responsibly by trying to directly address the issue of sexual harassment and assault rather than sweep it aside. The figures gathered by the student-athletes survey may serve as a springboard for further investigation of these issues and the extent to which problems exist on the rest of the KU campus.
The university simply can't afford not to deal with this issue.