Survey on campus sexual assault occurrence raises concerns, sparks conversation

Graphic by Meghan Joyce

CW: Mentions of sexual assault

Fifteen percent of undergraduate students reported experiencing incidents of sexual assault on-campus or off-campus at a school sponsored event, according to a 7C survey released this fall. An additional six percent of students suspected they had but were not sure, and more than half of undergraduate students reported experiencing brief nonverbal, verbal, or physical forms of unwanted sexual contact.

The survey, administered Spring 2018 in collaboration with the Title IX officers and presidents at each of the 7Cs, was adapted from the nationwide Higher Education Data Sharing (HEDS) Consortium. It had a 25 percent response rate across all the campuses. This team, along with student and faculty representation from each institution, continue working to evaluate the findings in presentations and discussions throughout the 5Cs.

According to the survey, students identifying as either “female” or “non-heterosexual” were most likely to experience unwanted physical, verbal, and nonverbal sexual harassment “often” or “very often.” These self-identified categories of students, as well as students who didn’t identify as male or female, were also least likely to report that they “feel safe on this campus.”

Students from Scripps College were most likely to report experiencing both incidents and attempts of sexual assault, according to Scripps College data. Only five percent of these were reportedly perpetrated by other Scripps students, compared to an average 50 percent of 5C incidents perpetrated by assailants from the survey respondent’s own school, according to the survey.

Gabriella Del Greco SC ’21 is a member of Scripps Advocates for Survivors of Sexual Assault and helps with the group’s outreach and overnight hotline.

“Generally, at least on Scripps campus, people are aware [of sexual misconduct], but generally Scripps students are not the ones perpetrating these crimes,” Del Greco said.

Del Greco said that cross-campus Title IX reporting can be much more complicated.

“Right now you have to go to the Title IX officer of the college of the person who’s being accused,” Del Greco said. “It’s very difficult because there’s so much coordination involved.”

Victoria Ashong PO ’20, a member of the Pomona College President’s Advisory Committee on Sexual Violence Intervention & Prevention, said that better-linked 5C Title IX policies are a work in progress.

“All the 5Cs have their own policies for training, reporting, and Title IX offices and director,” Ashong said. “We’re trying to clear things up structurally, making sure that there are clear networks and communication, and getting more cohesiveness within all the groups already doing great things.”

Sally Steffen, the Title IX Coordinator at Scripps College, wrote in an email to TSL that a major focus moving forward is continuing education to help students respond when friends disclose instances of sexual assault to them.

“It is noteworthy that 95 percent of Scripps [survey] respondents told someone; they disclosed to a friend, roommate, or romantic partner — in other words — to a peer,” Steffen wrote. “Research and experience show that people do heal from traumatic events but getting connected to the help they need is a very important step in this healing process.”

Of all undergraduate students who experienced assaults, 63 percent said the situation involved them drinking alcohol, and 64 percent reported others drinking alcohol. 59 percent of these incidents were reported to have happened during the student’s first year, more than twice as likely as any subsequent year, according to the survey.

Steffen wrote that the trends reflected in the HEDS survey data parallel that of the data of national studies.

Hannah Slocumb HM ’19, co-president of the Harvey Mudd Advocates for Survivors of Sexual Assault, wrote in a message to TSL that the high rate of first-years experiencing sexual violence was alarming.

“It is clear to us that we need education for [first-years] past the initial orientation program,” Slocumb wrote. “We also feel that we need to address some of the power differential which is inherent in our dorm system. Freshmen often come into dorms which already have strong dorm cultures, and so the process of trying to fit in can create vulnerability.”

Claremont McKenna College Advocates for Survivors of Sexual Assault declined to give a comment for the story.

Another finding of the survey was that 33 percent of students said that there was a bystander present during their experiences of sexual assault.

EmPOWER Center Director Rima Shah wrote in an email to TSL: “[T]he survey results continue to underscore the key role that friends play in supporting survivors, as they are most often the resource survivors turn to. Working with our community and empowering friends and bystanders will remain a priority for us.”

According to the HEDS survey data, 91 percent of students feel able to identify sexual assault and 89 percent feel able to take action to prevent it through education programs offered at the Claremont Colleges, which include Teal Dot and online trainings.

Another HEDS survey conducted in 2015 at the 5Cs found lower percentages of students who responded that they received educational information from their institution about defining and recognizing sexual assault as well as personally preventing sexual assault.

In November of that year, the EmPOWER Center was founded to provide year-round survivor support and violence-prevention programming. Since then, the EmPOWER Center has increased programming, in part through a three-year $75,000 grant awarded by the Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women, according to the survey’s introduction.

Steffen wrote that following the 2015 study, the 7Cs now all have Title IX coordinators that meet weekly with a working group, and have implemented bystander intervention programs.

“The data speaks to the need to continue to expand and improve that work too,” Steffen wrote. “I believe that the more information we have about the problem of interpersonal violence in our community, the better off we are as we move forward.”

This article was last updated Nov. 16 at 12:04 a.m. to include that the sexual assault survey had a 25 percent response rate across the consortium.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that nine percent of undergraduate students reported experiencing incidents of sexual assault and nearly four percent of students suspected they had but were not sure, instead of 15 percent and six percent respectively. TSL regrets this error.


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