IOWA CITY, Iowa — University of Iowa officials say they are ready to take action to fight sexual abuse on campus after about one in five female students who responded to a voluntary online survey reported being raped.

Officials held a news conference Wednesday to release results from the “Speak Out Iowa” survey, made available to students online for seven weeks last fall.

Only 9.3 percent of UI students took the survey, but of those respondents, 21 percent of undergraduate female students said they had been raped and 20.5 percent reported attempted rape, according to the Iowa City Press-Citizen ( ). More than 11 percent of first-year women undergraduates say they were raped during the first semester.

“The number is horrible,” Tom Rocklin, the UI vice president for student life, said Wednesday at the news conference. “It’s a scourge in our society. What’s important is that we work to bring that number down.”

UI officials said the survey results were in line with national data and research about sexual assaults on college campuses. The school says 52 percent of its students are female and about three-fourths of the survey respondents were women.

A similar survey by Penn State University released in the spring found that 18.1 percent of undergraduates reported being the victim of a sexual assault. That survey had a higher participation rate, with 27 percent of undergraduates responding.

The University of Iowa survey’s small participation rate left officials unsure whether respondents’ experiences were typical for the larger campus population. Some researchers think assault victims are more likely to participate in such voluntary surveys but others speculate that assault victims might be less likely to respond because the incident was so distressing.

Carolyn Copps Hartley, a UI professor of social work who chaired the Sexual Misconduct Climate Survey Subcommittee of the UI Anti-Violence Coalition, said there’s no way to be sure whether the survey reflects overall campus assaults.

“For the students who wanted to tell us about their experiences, this is what they told us,” Hartley said. “So I cannot say for sure this is the rate on campus, but we’ve got numbers that we need to respond to.”

In response to the survey, which started Oct. 26, 2015, the university said it has developed a plan with provisions for prevention, education, intervention and policy changes.

The plan includes a refresher course for incoming undergraduates about sexual misconduct, which would follow a similar course required of students before they arrive on campus. The university also plans to explore options to work more closely with high schools to educate younger students about sexual assaults.

The UI also plans to greater publicize resources for victims, including providing a safety booklet in every residence hall and updating crime alerts to make them more effective.

Information from: Iowa City Press-Citizen,