The Association of American Universities (AAU) released today (Sept. 21) the findings of its comprehensive survey about sexual assault and misconduct on college campuses. Conducted this spring, the survey collected data from some 800,000 undergraduate, graduate and professional students at 27 colleges and universities across the nation, including Washington University in St. Louis.
According to the overall findings of the campus climate survey:
- 11.7 percent of all students who responded nationally reported that since entering college they have experienced some form of nonconsensual sexual contact involving physical force or incapacitation, including 5.3 percent involving completed penetration or attempted penetration by force.
- Among only female undergraduates, 23.1 percent reported that since entering college they have experienced some form of nonconsensual sexual contact involving physical force or incapacitation, including 10.8 percent involving completed penetration or attempted penetration by force.
The full national report is available online.
At Washington University, the percentages are generally consistent with the national statistics:
- 10.9 percent of all students reported having experienced some form of nonconsensual sexual contact involving physical force or incapacitation while attending the university, including 5 percent involving completed penetration or attempted penetration by force.
- Among female undergraduate and graduate students surveyed, 22.6 percent and 8.5 percent, respectively, reported experiencing some form of nonconsensual sexual contact involving physical force or incapacitation while attending the university, including 11.9 percent and 3.3 percent, respectively, involving completed penetration or attempted penetration by force.
Our survey results also provide important information regarding the risk for graduate and male students, as well as the TGQN (transgender, genderqueer or nonconforming, questioning or not listed) populations, including:
- Among the TGQN population, 37.4 percent reported having experienced some form of nonconsensual sexual contact involving physical force or incapacitation while attending the university, including 15.7 percent involving completed penetration or attempted penetration by force.
- Among male undergraduates and graduate students surveyed, 7.5 percent and 2.7 percent, respectively, reported experiencing some form of nonconsensual sexual contact involving physical force or incapacitation while attending the university, including 2.9 percent and .7 percent, respectively, involving completed penetration or attempted penetration by force.
The full Washington University report, including all data, is available online.
“These numbers are sobering, to be sure, but sadly not unexpected, given the well-documented challenges of sexual assault, misconduct and harassment that colleges and universities across the nation have faced for decades,” said Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton. “The survey data are consistent with other insight we have gained in recent years. In many ways they affirm what we already know, and they also underscore the need to ramp up our efforts, particularly in the area of prevention. We have a strong base on which to build through efforts that are underway, which the data show are making a difference in education and awareness.
“I have enlisted the leadership of Provost Holden Thorp and Lori White, vice chancellor for student affairs, in our efforts to interpret the survey data, review our existing procedures and policies, and recommend steps we can take to stop sexual assault and misconduct on our campuses. We are fully committed to creating an environment where every member of our community feels secure and is treated with respect, and the survey represents an important milestone in our continuing efforts.”
While the survey results indicate an inarguably serious problem, they also show that Washington University students are more likely to have confidence in university leadership and to be aware of available campus resources than their peers.
- Among Washington University students, 69.7 percent of all students and 62.9 percent of undergraduate women indicated that they think it is very or extremely likely that campus officials would take seriously reports of sexual assault or misconduct, compared to 63.3 percent and 57.1 percent of the national survey participants, respectively.
- Among Washington University students, 64.1 percent of all students and 76.1 percent of undergraduate women responded that they are somewhat, very or extremely likely to be knowledgeable about where to get help at the university if they or a friend experience sexual assault or misconduct, compared to 64.2 percent and 68.5 percent of the national sample, respectively.
- Among Washington University students, 53.2 percent of all students and 48.6 percent of undergraduate women indicated that they are very or extremely likely to think that campus officials would conduct a fair investigation of a reported incident of sexual assault or misconduct, compared to 49.2 percent and 45.7 percent of the national participants, respectively.
“There is no ‘bright side’ to these statistics, but is heartening to know that our students are aware of the resources that are available to them, and that they have faith in our campus leadership to respond appropriately when sexual violence or misconduct does occur,” White said. “We are pleased that we’re making progress and that students are beginning to feel more comfortable coming forward to report incidents, but we will only be satisfied when our efforts in this area are no longer needed because we have succeeded in creating a campus culture where this type of behavior does not occur. This is our ultimate goal, which we are committed to pursuing for the long haul.”
The Washington University community is invited to learn more about the survey results at a university-wide event, which will be held at 6 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 24, in Room 201 of Crow Hall on the Danforth Campus. Wrighton, Thorp and White will be present to facilitate a discussion and answer questions, along with Jessica Kennedy, Title IX coordinator; and Kim Webb, director of the Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention (RSVP) Center.
“It’s critically important to know what’s really going on, and to have an open and honest conversation within our community as we work toward solutions,” Thorp said. “The AAU report helps to give us a clearer idea of exactly what we’re up against, including identifying some student populations that are at greater risk, and now we can revisit our current strategies to look for ways to close the gaps.
“We’ve built a solid foundation of programs and resources over the past several years, beginning in 2010 when we hired Kim Webb and developed what has become the RSVP Center. In 2012, we created a task force that resulted in the establishment of our sexual assault investigation board in 2013 and the hiring of Jessica Kennedy to the full-time position of Title IX coordinator in 2014, as well as the hiring of a full-time sexual and relationship violence prevention specialist earlier this year. We’ll continue to support our students and make it clear that there is no place on our campuses for sexual assault, misconduct or harassment.”
Sexual assault and relationship violence prevention programs currently in place at Washington University fall into three main areas:
Education and prevention
- “The Date” – A mandatory orientation program for all incoming students consisting of a student-created and performed play that uses real stories to explore issues of consent and sexual assault. The play is followed by small group discussions led by trained peer facilitators.
- “#Rewind Blurred Lines” – A spring follow-up to “The Date,” the interactive performance presents students with a common scenario related to sexual harassment or assault, and allows the audience to step into the shoes of the actors to utilize skills they have learned and try to affect change in the outcome.
- Trained peer educators – The Leaders in Interpersonal Violence Education (LIVE and LIVE Greek) student group represents a cadre of more than 100 trained peer educators who provide education on sexual harassment, sexual assault, relationship violence, stalking, and men and masculinities.
- “It’s On Us” – Participation in a national campaign that aims to spark conversation about sexual assault and encourages participants to make a pledge to improve the campus culture.
- Green Dot – Adopted by Washington University in 2011, Green Dot is a national bystander intervention program that uses peer influence to prevent sexual violence.
- “Think About It: Turning Points” – An online course required of all incoming students that provides students with a comprehensive foundation in four key areas: Sex in college, partying smart, sexual violence and healthy relationships.
- Student, faculty and staff training – The Title IX coordinator and RSVP Center regularly provide training to members of the university community, including residential advisors, faculty and new employees, on sexual violence and harassment and how to help students who report these incidents.
- Dedicated staff resources – Includes the university’s first full-time Title IX coordinator, the director of the RSVP Center, and a full-time sexual and relationship violence prevention specialist.
- S.A.R.A.H. – The Sexual Assault and Rape Anonymous Helpline is a 24-hour, confidential helpline run by students during the academic year that offers referrals, resources and information on rape, sexual assault, abuse, relationships and more.
- RSVP Center – Offers 24/7 response to students who have been victimized, or are in a threatening situation and desire support with medical care, police response or emergency housing. Provides confidential resources and support for victims of relationship and sexual violence, as well as prevention education.
- Uncle Joe’s Peer Counseling and Resource Center – Offers 24-hour phone counseling by students, as well as in-person peer support.
- Student Health Services counseling – Provides medical and mental health care for individuals impacted by relationship and sexual violence.
Law enforcement and disciplinary processes
- Law enforcement – Anyone who experiences sexual assault is encouraged to report allegations to law enforcement authorities, including the Washington University Police Department (WUPD), which has male and female officers specially trained in assisting victims of sexual assault. If the incident occurred off-campus, WUPD or the RSVP Center will assist the victim in contacting the appropriate law enforcement agency.
- Sexual assault investigation board – The University Sexual Assault Investigation Board (USAIB) is composed of faculty, staff and students appointed by the chancellor to investigate all complaints against students of sexual assault, and some complaints against students of sexual harassment, dating/domestic violence or stalking that do not involve an alleged sexual assault; and to determine potential disciplinary action, pursuant to the University Student Judicial Code, up to and including suspension and expulsion.
In addition, a Washington University task force created last fall to address issues of sexual assault and relationship violence on campus has completed its work and will recommend a number of measures that aim to create a safer and more supportive environment.
The task force has submitted its report to Thorp and White, who have appointed a committee to review and evaluate its recommendations. The report will be discussed at the Sept. 24 event for the university community and released shortly after.