September 22, 2015

AAU Releases Sexual Assault Survey Results

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The survey results — titled the “Report on the AAU Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct” — offer over 280 pages of findings following nearly one year of research. Its conclusions are mainly based upon a survey which was offered to students at the 27 participating universities.

Of the 20,547 Cornell students invited to participate, a total of 3,906 completed the survey for an overall response rate of 19 percent, according to the report. In April, Susan Murphy ’73 Ph.D. ’94, former vice president for student and academic services, said that in order to get an accurate picture of the campus climate, she would need about 40 to 50 percent of the student body to respond.

The survey asked students about several aspects of the campus climate related to sexual assault and sexual misconduct. Designed by the research firm Westat, the 20-minute survey consisted of demographic questions about race, orientation, class year and preferred gender followed by questions about student usage and knowledge of campus resources and experiences of sexual misconduct on campus.

Cornell’s rates of sexual harassment, intimate partner violence and stalking are largely consistent with the average rates across the 26 other institutions participating in the survey. Exactly one-half of Cornell survey respondents said they had experienced sexual harassment since enrolling at the University.

Sexual harassment rates are highest among female undergraduate students, with 67 percent reporting that they had been sexually harassed, and transgender, genderqueer or non-conforming students, with 69 percent reporting experiences of sexual harassment. Graduate and professional males reported the lowest rates of sexual harassment at 31 percent reporting sexual assault.

Nationally, the survey revealed that 23 percent of undergraduate women and five percent of undergraduate men reported experiences of sexual contact that ranged from kissing or groping to penetration due to force or incapacitation. At Cornell, 22.6 percent of undergraduate females said they had experienced non-consensual sexual contact since they began attending with 13.5 percent reporting experiences of non-consensual sexual contact during the 2014 to 2015 academic year.

Only six percent of undergraduate males reported experiences of non-consensual sexual contact and 3.4 percent of undergraduate males reported that they experienced non-consensual sexual contact during the academic year of the survey.

Sixty-four percent of Cornell students who responded to the survey think that it is “very” or “extremely” likely that campus officials would seriously handle a report of sexual assault or sexual misconduct, according to the report. However, female students and students who identify as transgender, genderqueer or non-conforming “reported less optimistic views of campus responses to reports of sexual assault or misconduct.”

Additionally, 20 percent of respondents claimed to have witnessed someone acting in a sexually violent or harassing manner, according to the report. Of those who had encountered this situation, only 44 percent “intervened in some way.” Half of Cornell’s respondents said they observed a drunken person moving toward a sexual encounter, but of those respondents 79 percent reported that they didn’t intervene.

The report also found that 48 percent of Cornell survey respondents think that sexual assault or sexual misconduct is not problematic on campus. Seventeen percent of respondents think it is “very” or “extremely” problematic, and an additional 35 percent think it is “somewhat” of an issue.

Fewer than five percent of respondents said it is “very” or “extremely” likely that they will experience sexual assault or misconduct on or off campus, according to the report.

In an email sent to the entire Cornell community, President Elizabeth Garrett outlined her dedication to “creating a safer, more caring campus culture in which bias, harassment and violence have no place.”

“[These] results also underscore there is still more work to be done to educate and to help protect our students,” Garrett said. “Even one instance of sexual assault on our campus is one too many.”