One of the frequent complaints levied against college sexual assault statistics is that they are improbably high, presumably because survey respondents take too broad a view of what counts as “sexual assault.” But new survey data from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology suggest the opposite.

Among undergrads, 17 percent of women at MIT reported experiencing one or more unwanted sexual behaviors involving force, physical threat or incapacitation. (This is about in line with other statistics on sexual assaults at other campuses, though the exact phrasing and definitions used vary from survey to survey.)

But when asked whether they had ever been “sexually assaulted” — a label with no definition offered — just 10 percent of female MIT undergrads answered yes.

This suggests that many women (and men; there’s a similar discrepancy among men’s responses) don’t recognize that many of the unwanted sexual behaviors they’ve experienced meet the definition of “sexual assault.”

More on-campus awareness and education efforts, directed at both men and women, about what is and isn’t acceptable or legal behavior would help. So would requiring more campuses to conduct surveys like MIT’s — preferably with standardized language and questions across surveys — as I and others have advocated before. Every time one of these one-off surveys is made public, it is met with disbelief about a campus’s crime rates, even though surveys at different schools tend to show similar levels of assaults and attempted assaults. Accusations of “inflated” or exaggerated numbers in turn likely factor into students’ willingness to call what happened to them, or to others, a real-life assault.