Sexual Violence in Higher Ed

Posted October 7, 2015 by Devon Hamilton

Sexual Assault is EVERYONE'S issue

The Association of American Universities (AAU), an association composed of sixty-two research Universities in the U.S. and Canada, recently released the results of a sexual assault and sexual misconduct survey piloted this past Spring. Much like the reoccurring issue of gun control seen as recently as October 1st’s mass shooting in Oregon, or the reality that Black lives still don’t matter in this country, sexual assault, particularly on University campuses in this case, has become so culturally interwoven in our daily routine that we have defied to largely recognize the true destructive nature its practice embodies. So much so, that in the extensive history of sexual violence in spaces of higher education, a history seemingly entangled with the existence of such institutions, there has yet to have been a survey conducted nearly as comprehensive and uniform as the one we are presented with today.

The results of this survey unsurprisingly are rather dismal. Below are some of the key findings, quoted directly from the survey.

Who often are the victims?

  • Rates of sexual assault and misconduct are highest among undergraduate females and those identifying as transgender, genderqueer, non-conforming, questioning, and as something not listed on the survey (TGQN).
  • The incidence of sexual assault and sexual misconduct due to physical force, threats of physical force, or incapacitation among female undergraduate student respondents was 23.1 percent, including 10.8 percent who experienced penetration.
  • The risk of the most serious types of nonconsensual sexual contact, due to physical force or incapacitation, decline from freshman to senior year. This decline is not as evident for other types of nonconsensual sexual contact.

How are these cases reported?

  • A relatively small percentage (e.g., 28% or less) of even the most serious incidents are reported to an organization or agency (e.g., Title IX office; law enforcement)
  • More than 50 percent of the victims of even the most serious incidents (e.g., forced penetration) say they do not report the event because they do not consider it “serious enough.”
  • A significant percentage of students say they did not report because they were “…embarrassed, ashamed or that it would be too emotionally difficult” or “…did not think anything would be done about it.”
  • What are the environments incidents like this often occur in?
  • Nonconsensual sexual contact involving drugs and alcohol constitute a significant percentage of the incidents.
  • A little less than half of the students have witnessed a drunk person heading for a sexual encounter. Among those who reported being a witness, most did not try to intervene.

Generally summed up, nearly one in four undergraduate women will experience some form of sexual assault. Of nearly a third of the incidents that are actually reported, over half of those victims do not consider the incident serious enough to report, and if alcohol is involved, nearly half of bystanders that witness a sexual encounter choose not to intervene. This has become the new normal, and it’s often executed by familiar faces. Undergraduates identified the culprit of ~90% of sexual assaults as fellow students, and graduate students identified nearly a quarter of them as faculty members.

Though these numbers are new, these stories are not. Yet, with all the preemptive measures self-proclaimed to be taken by Universities, these numbers are still overwhelmingly evident of a frightening norm among campus climates across the nation.

So what hasn’t worked? Firstly, and most concerning, there is a clear lack of attentiveness from Universities, visibly apparent in that less than half of the sixty-two Universities a part of the AAU decided not to participate in the survey. Simple orientations or education sessions about these issues are also quite ineffective, being that well over 60% of students find that sexual assault is not extremely problematic on their campus. This won’t be resolved without a clear commitment to the issue and sustainable solutions that are persistently enforced. Until clear policies are defined and imposed, positive support with resources for reporting is established, students are frequently educated on the matters, and these and other approaches are on-goingly assessed, this climate will persist.

For more information on the survey, check [here].