Top Universities Release Sexual Assault Reports

Nearly all of the universities that participated in a 2019 campus climate survey published their individual results and will be addressing specific problems or challenges identified.

October 16, 2019
 
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All but one of the 33 leading research universities that participated in a major survey of campus sexual assault and misconduct on Tuesday published their individual results, which show a range of outcomes, including improved student awareness about how to report sexual assault but low rates of reporting and outreach to university-sponsored programs.

The elite institutions made their full reports on the 2019 Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Misconduct available at the same time the aggregate data was released by the Association of American Universities.

The University of Florida will wait until early next week to release data, in order to analyze the survey’s results beforehand, said Steve Orlando, assistant vice president for communications. 

This was the second time the survey was conducted; the first one was done in 2015. Nearly 182,000 undergraduate and graduate students took part in the more recent survey.

One of the main concerns among sexual assault researchers about the 2015 AAU survey was that universities would not make institution-specific data publicly available and easily accessible, but all 33 institutions intend to make results public within a week of the initial release, said Kimberlee Eberle-Sudré, AAU’s director of policy research.

The survey cost each institution $47,500 -- which includes the cost of the actual survey, administrative expenses and the cost of reports on the results, Eberle-Sudré said. There were additional costs for universities to add customized questions and provide students with incentives -- gift cards or donations to a charity -- for completing the survey, she said.

Sexual assault rates at the 33 participating universities ranged from 14 to 32 percent among undergraduate women, according to the AAU’s aggregate report. Georgetown University is at the top of that range, with an assault rate of 31.2 percent, the university reported.

Results from the individual universities reveal which institutions are handling sexual misconduct well and which are not, said Katherine McGerald, executive director of SurvJustice, a nonprofit that provides legal advocacy for victims of sexual assault. But public institutions beyond the leading research universities should also take the lead on conducting campus climate surveys, she said.

“We should give [universities] opportunities to improve,” McGerald said. “Although I think the climate survey is extremely important, it’s difficult to say what is happening at each and every campus.”

Some institutions, such as Boston University and the University of Southern California, planned multiple town hall meetings and listening sessions for this week for students to ask questions about the survey. Others have formed campus task forces that will directly analyze and address specific problems and challenges cited in the surveys. Of the universities that participated, 21 conducted the same survey in 2015, the AAU reported.

The University of Southern California's survey found that undergraduate students showed decreased knowledge of sexual assault and misconduct definitions from 2015 to 2019. This finding is contrary to the 11- to 12-percentage-point increase the aggregate report found for undergraduate men and women over all. USC undergraduates were also not as aware in 2019 as they were four years ago of where to seek help or file a report with the university, according to the university’s report.

However, sexual misconduct reporting more than doubled at USC for nearly every gender identity category in the survey. This was a notable difference from the aggregate report’s consensus that victims are still greatly deterred from seeking help after they are sexually assaulted.

“The survey results clearly show the need for ongoing work to strengthen the prevention and intervention efforts already underway, and to provide additional support for those impacted,” Sarah Van Orman, USC's chief student health officer, and Winston Crisp, vice president of student affairs, wrote in a joint letter.

The fact that six more of the nation’s top research institutions participated in the survey is a significant step in showing survivors that universities care about the issue, said Laura Dunn, an attorney who represents campus sexual assault survivors.

University administrators are quick to agree that sexual misconduct is a major issue across college campuses generally, but the survey participation and release of the findings demonstrate a willingness to confront the issue on an individual level, Dunn said.

“Schools need to have this data,” she said. “If they want to glob together with the AAU, fine, but this information needs to be made public … If you have that data, it gives you further argument to support every action you take.”

But the statistics that come from climate surveys can also be “wielded to argue for policy changes that impede on students’ due process rights,” Susan Kruth, a senior program manager for the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, an advocacy group for students’ due process and speech rights, wrote in an email to USC students and staff.

“Climate surveys, conducted right, can provide helpful information to campus communities and those considering joining one,” Kruth wrote. “But there are no possible results that will change the fact that schools need fair procedures in place to ensure that reports of assault are taken seriously without prejudging anyone's guilt.”

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