Sexual harassment and assault on college campuses: Why does it happen so much?

One of the most sweeping surveys of sexual assaults and misconduct on American college campuses confirms incidents are common and often go unreported.

Nearly half of all respondents in the newly released survey, 47.7 percent, said they were victims of sexual harassment.

Looking only at the responses of undergraduate women, nearly 62 percent reported being sexually harassed, mostly through inappropriate comments about their appearance or sexuality. More than 20 percent reported being the victim of sexual assault and misconduct.

emoryartHalf of the respondents who said they were victims of  sex offenses involving penetration never reported the incident to the administration or police because they did not believe it was serious enough. Many said they didn’t speak out because they were “…embarrassed, ashamed or that it would be too emotionally difficult” or “…did not think anything would be done about it.”

The Association of American Universities Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct received responses from 150,000 students on 27 campuses. There were seven Ivy League schools among the 27, as well as top public campuses including the Universities of Michigan, North Carolina, Texas, Florida and Virginia. The Washington Post compiled charts of the rates for the participating campuses with comments from the school leaders on their individual results.

Yale University President Peter Salovey told the Post, “The prevalence of such behavior runs counter to our most fundamental values. It threatens individual students, our learning environment and our sense of community.”

Slate’s Nora Caplan-Bricker offers a good critique of the findings and smart questions about the disparities by campus, writing, “With that information in hand, and with some further investigation, maybe we could begin to understand why, for example, 19 percent of undergraduate women at Iowa State University and 20 percent at the University of Florida report being victims of some nonconsensual sexual contact, compared to 26 percent at Harvard and 28 percent at Dartmouth. Understanding even subtle differences could help us do something constructive about this universal problem. So far, this study mostly tells us that the problem exists—something we should already know.”

Here are excerpts from the official summary of the report:

In the fall of 2014, the Association of American Universities contracted with Westat, a research firm, to work with a university team of researchers and administrators to design and implement the survey, entitled the AAU Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct.

The survey was administered at the end of the spring 2015 semester on the campuses of 27 institutions of higher education, 26 of which are AAU member universities. The survey was designed to assess the incidence, prevalence and characteristics of incidents of sexual assault and misconduct. It also assessed the overall campus climate with respect to perceptions of risk, knowledge of resources available to victims, and perceived reactions to an incident of sexual assault or misconduct.

This study is one of the first to provide an empirical assessment of these questions across a wide range of institutions of higher education. Prior studies of campus sexual assault and misconduct have been implemented for a small number of institutions of higher education or for a national sample of students with relatively small samples for any particular institutions of higher education

Highlights of the results include:

•The percentage of students who report nonconsensual sexual contact varies greatly by the type of sexual contact (penetration or sexual touching) and whether or not it involves physical force, alcohol or drugs, coercion, or absence of affirmative consent.

•The profiles of each institution of higher education are quite different. There is wide variation across institutions of higher education; for most types of sexual assault and misconduct measured on this survey; for various campus climate measures, such as opinions about how problematic it is at the school and how students and university officials might react to an incident.

•The average rates of nonconsensual sexual contact by physical force or incapacitation across all 27 institutions of higher education are as high or slightly higher than those revealed in prior surveys.

•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.

•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

•Nonconsensual sexual contact involving drugs and alcohol constitute a significant percentage of the incidents.

•A relatively small percentage (e.g., 28 percent 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.”

•Significantly more than half of the victims of nonconsensual sexual contact who reported the incident to an agency or organization said their experience with the agency or organization was very good or excellent along several criteria.

•When asked what might happen when a student reports an incident of sexual assault or misconduct to a university official, about half say that it is very or extremely likely that the university will conduct a fair investigation. The percentage is lower for those groups that are most likely to report victimization (i.e., females and those identifying as TGQN). Similar percentages are evident for opinions about other types of reactions by the university (e.g., officials would take the report seriously; protect the safety of the student; take action against the offender).

•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.

•As noted above, the study found a wide range of variation across the 27 institutions of higher education in the rates of sexual assault and misconduct, as well as the climate measures. However, the analyses did not find a clear explanation for why there is such wide variation. Some university characteristics, such as size, were correlated with certain outcomes. But the correlation was not particularly strong. An analysis of the possibility the estimates were affected by non-response bias found that certain types of estimates may be too high because non-victims may have been less likely to participate. This might have contributed to some of the differences observed between schools, although indications are that this was not a large effect.

Reader Comments 0

53 comments
ProHumanitate
ProHumanitate

One of my college roommates was gang raped by members of the football team at a party at the football dorm. She didn't report it. She transferred. This problem is far more common than people think. Yes, she was drunk. But that's no excuse.

Jack Moore
Jack Moore

It's easy to forget that sexual assault is such a major issue on campuses today. But it's also really easy to do something. A lot of the time, it happens somewhere in plain view, and all you really have to do is call out to stop it. Just knowing that they've been seen, before or during the act, will usually discourage the offender and it can stop right there. http://dgmlawyers.com/?page=for_employees_sexual_harassment 

AlreadySheared
AlreadySheared

Under existing "affirmative consent" doctrine, two people can get drunk, go into a bedroom, take off their clothes, have sexual relations with each other, sleep together for the night, and, when they wake up the next morning, BOTH be guilty of sexual assault, since they had sexual relations without giving explicit verbal consent AND were unable to consent since they were both under the influence of alcohol.


This is absurd.  See the below New York Times article on the problematic state of affairs on campuses today.


http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/16/opinion/sunday/mishandling-rape.html?_r=0

CSpinks
CSpinks

Read Tom Wolfe's "I am Charlotte Simmons."

redweather
redweather

Many of the comments here remind me of the ones made a while back about the Virginia frat house festooned with "Freshman Daughter Drop Off" signs.  A lot of you just don't get it.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@redweather 

My only comment to the whole thread is that sexism (and racism, for that matter) are alive and well in the U. S.   Consciousness and care are their only lasting antidotes.

Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

Lot of ambiguous statements here.  Sexual harassment for example, is it a drunk frat boy playing grab a** or is it a thirty year old bartender trying to get an inebriated coed into the back room?  Big, big difference in my opinion. 

As with any survey, you really need to be able to view the questions before you can ascertain if the answers are relevant.  Ask the right questions and you could convict the Pope.


Astropig
Astropig

@Lee_CPA2 

We need to be really careful here. Remember last year when Rolling Stone assured us that there was more rape on campus than actual learning?(And this space more or less repeated and amplified a totally bogus story?) This whole narrative is suspect in my eyes and your comment reinforces that.Is there sexual harassment on campus? Assault? Yes-But as long as universities treat this as a "violation of campus policy" instead of criminal behavior, it will never be totally eradicated from college life.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

From TRAGIC for interested teachers:

This following is only one item from the list on TRAGIC.  See link below for more complete information.

TRRCC Recap from Sept. 17 meeting***

The TRRCC (Teacher Recruitment, Retention, and Compensation Committee), a subcommittee of the Education Reform Commission, met on September 17, 2015 with the stated purpose of working on the wording of their recommendations and making their recommendations more solid.

1. Teacher retirement: While the committee noted that TRS is in good shape, they continue to question the future of TRS. They noted that many teachers do not teach long enough to be vested, or to collect their retirement. They noted that the national trend is for a non-defined retirement plan (similar to a 401K) which they describe as more portable. They commented that entering teachers might prefer the non-defined retirement model, since many will leave teaching before they are vested in retirement. They did not take into account that teachers may withdraw their TRS retirement funds at any time, whether they are vested or not. The committee recommended no changes for current teachers concerning Teacher Retirement; however, they recommended that the legislature make a further study of retirement options. . . . ."

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

https://t.e2ma.net/message/uskfhc/ekn3dt

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@MaryElizabethSings 

Actually, although I'm a TRS retiree, I can see this argument. Public K-12 teachers in Georgia have been given no choice but to enroll with TRS. Since one cannot claim any retirement benefits from TRS until one is 25 years vested or 60 years old, this leaves many K-12 teachers who wish to leave earlier without alternatives.  The most they can do is to withdraw their TRS payments in a lump sum and re-invest it.

University professors have a choice when hired as to whether to enroll in TRS or to start a 401K plan. Public K-12 teachers are not given that choice.


(I should add that at many USG schools University professors who chose 401K plans are petitioning the Regents to be allowed to switch to TRS...with no success at all so far.)



MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@OriginalProf 

For the teachers and the general public who may be pondering your words, above:


(1)  This change from the defined, group TRS pension plan to a teachers' pension plan in Georgia which is essentially an individual teacher's 401K pension plan is, in large part, a political switch based on an ideological agenda, as much as or more than pragmatism.


(2) This change is also reflective of a more mobile population within our state, nation (and world, for that matter).


(3) A representative from the TRS informed interested teachers at an educational meeting I attended in the past year and a half that the individual teacher's investment in her retirement grows at a more rapid rate and with more security when that teacher chooses to leave her TRS funds with the group rather than go it alone, in her retirement investment through essentially an individual 401k retirement plan.


(4)  The agenda for this transition would take place over several years and would supposedly not involve the funds of already retired teachers.


(5)  To my knowledge, no one who has opted out of the group TRS plan, in which teachers pool their retirement money to invest together rather than separately, has ever been able later to become a TRS member.  (From the financial viability of the investment funding of the TRS, I would think that allowing teachers, who had already made a 401k decision - knowing the full consequences of their decision - to switch, later, into the group TRS plan from a 401k plan would make the TRS, itself, more financially unstable for all teachers because the numbers of teachers (i.e. and their money) who might choose to switch from year-to-year would always be in a state of financial flux.  Prudent and wise financial investment takes long-ranged - even decades long - of projection and planning.  Because Georgia' TRS, with its prudent and wise financial planning and with its financial projection over many years, presently has one of the best retirement plans in the nation. This stability helps not only the individual teacher's investment in her pension funds, but the community's financial stability in which the teacher resides.


MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

POSTSCRIPT: A word to those who will make this decision regarding the teachers' TRS pension plan in Georgia:


Thinking more than one generation ahead, I urge legislators to consider that although the state, nation (and world) are more mobile now than in years past, the trend of the world of the future may well be that we, here on Earth, will have to pool our resources to a larger degree than we do presently, in many matters, such as control of the Earth's environment and climate, population shifts throughout the world due to immigration and refugee movement will make the lines between nations more fragile and fluid. Thus, worldwide financial investments made by, or for, local inhabitants, may see a trend toward greater service-to-others jobs throughout the world, from necessity to have a job. The world's population will double in this century, from the billions who already inhabit the Earth.


In summary, if the Earth's institutions and social frameworks move, in the future, in a direction in which there must be more mutual consent for all to survive, the presently projected 401k plan would be out of step with the Earth's future movement, financially, socially, (and, as I see it, spiritually).

straker
straker

"62% reported being sexually harassed"


You can bet that if a tall, handsome young man made sexually suggestive remarks, no harassment was felt.


On the other hand, if a short, not very good looking young man did the same, then all kinds of harassment were felt.


Ain't human biology just great????????????

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@straker 

Well, the choice of partner is up to the woman, I guess.

Did you read about the 14 year old girl who was forcibly kissed in school by a 13-year old male (on a dare), and has charged him with sexual assault? Good for her, I say!

class80olddog
class80olddog

My suggestion to any females attending college - if you are RAPED - go immediately to the POLICE (not campus authorities) and insist that photographs and a rape kit be taken.  Then there is no question of the evidence like there was in the case of a woman claiming rape moths later, including being slammed through a glass table.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@class80olddog 

And don't go to Grady's with that rape kit, for they may well just store it...as it recently came out they have been doing.

class80olddog
class80olddog

If I had kids in college right now, I think I would worry slightly more about my sons being falsely accused of rape more than my daughters being raped. (that is a sad thing to say)

bu2
bu2

The sexual harassment part you have to take with a grain of salt.  If Brad Pitt said it would it be sexual harassment or merely a compliment?  Was it said one time or twenty?  Did they tell them to stop?  What's harassment is totally different to different women.  It would have to be clearly defined.


The rape part is pretty disturbing.  Although with the low response rate, its hard to determine the prevalence.  It could be way overstated if those who weren't victims ignored the survey.  It could be way understated if those who were victims were often too embarrassed to respond.  I did have someone tell me they were discussing it in a group of about 10 college women and half of them had been victims of date rape.  You hear enough stories just with football players, you've got to believe there is a sizable issue.

class80olddog
class80olddog

"Half of the respondents who said they were victims of even extreme sex offenses never reported the incident to the administration or police because they did not believe it was serious enough"

?????? an "extreme sex offense" is not "serious enough"?????

What is an "extreme sex offense"?

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@class80olddog 

I think what this really means is that these respondents didn't think that authorities would think it was "serious enough" to take action.

RichardKPE
RichardKPE

OK, first of all, the study relies on a survey which means the entire thing is BS.  People always lie in surveys. 


Second, you have to admire some ways that they are defining "nonconsensual" which includes "penetration or oral sex without your active, ongoing voluntary agreement."  ONGOING agreement?  Really?  

RichardKPE
RichardKPE

I realized that I should have provided an example for the "people always lie in surveys."  


Here's a question:  If a hurricane is approaching, what items do you stock up on?  


Every single person who is asked that question says exactly the same thing: Water and Batteries.  Sounds great, and it makes perfect sense.  The problem is that it doesn't match up with reality.  When a hurricane is approaching, the only two items that ever see an uptick in sales are (and this is true) beer and pop tarts.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@RichardKPE 

If the person is drunk, he/she can't give voluntary agreement; and legally that is the definition of rape. 

RichardKPE
RichardKPE

@OriginalProf @RichardKPE ...and isn't that a bit absurd?  If I'm drinking by my own choice, I can then say that because of my original choice, I'm incapable of making the next choice?  It's insane.


Imagine that exact same scenario but with a slight twist:  "Officer, my alcohol use can't be blamed for my swerving all over the road."

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@RichardKPE @OriginalProf 

But the relevant situation here is the guy who gives the woman drink after drink...or even slips some drops of "the drug" into her drink. Protest all you like, but that's now the law: if the female is drunk then she is incapable of giving her consent to sex, so it's considered rape.

Astropig
Astropig

@OriginalProf @RichardKPE 

" If the person is drunk, he/she can't give voluntary agreement; and legally that is the definition of rape. "

What if they are both drunk? Is that a "Get Out Of Jail Free" card for one or the other?

class80olddog
class80olddog

The other thing I would suggest to males at college is to get a notarized permission slip to have sex before the girl becomes intoxicated.  That is the only way to guarantee that consent is really consent.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@class80olddog 

Untrue.  If the male gives the female liquor (or the "date-rape drug") that causes her to get intoxicated, then it is not considered consensual sex. What she signs before getting intoxicated is irrelevant.

class80olddog
class80olddog

@OriginalProf @class80olddog Obviously if a guy gives a girl the date-rape drug, it is not consensual.  Giving her alcohol (when she wants alcohol) is a more fuzzy standard - unless you can prove that it was given with the express purpose of making her inebriated so that sex could be "initiated".

class80olddog
class80olddog

As I mentioned in an earlier post - so what if you have two totally wasted college students having consensual sex with each other?  Charge both with raping each other - since neither can legally give permission while inebriated!

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@class80olddog 

But one of them has to initiate the sex,  literally, and it won't be the female. Also, another legal question is whether the male gave the female alcohol before the sex. This would mean that her role in the sex act was not consensual.  The legal definition of rape has changed within the last year or so, as decided by the U.S. Attorney General's office.

class80olddog
class80olddog

@OriginalProf @class80olddog That is a pretty sexist attitude - it is ALWAYS the male who initiates sex.  The question of who provided the alcohol (and if you can determine for what purpose) is valid, but what if they both consumed (willingly) from a community bowl?  Or brought their own?

class80olddog
class80olddog

@OriginalProf @class80olddog Maybe I am just dense, but I don't understand.  If a guy is standing there minding his own business and a girl walks over and unzips his pants and ... , then the guy is STILL initiating sex?

class80olddog
class80olddog

@OriginalProf @class80olddog Initiate - verb (used with object), initiated, initiating.

1. to begin, set going, or originate:

Literally?

Or are you using the term literally like so many "I literally DIED!"

EdumacateThat
EdumacateThat

@Niobe Agreed.  This is also a case where you can make a survey slant the way you want to.  What was not revealed was how many surveys went out.  It said 150K were returned, and... using those responses we have an epidemic.  While I agree with Wascatlady that many sexual assaults are not reported, I do not think it is appropriate to assume that those students who ignored the survey have been victimized at the same rate.

bu2
bu2

@EdumacateThat @Niobe


They have the participation rate by school.  As I recall, most were in the teens, so its pretty low.