Editor’s note: This article contains discussion of sexual violence and harassment.
A University-conducted survey of sexual assault and related misconduct has found multiple statistically significant decreases in metrics related to sexual violence on campus. The University published the survey findings on Monday afternoon in an email to the Cornell community.
Cornell conducts a survey of campus sexual violence every two years, under Article 129-B of the New York State Education Law.
The University conducted the survey with a random sample of 6,000 undergraduate, graduate and professional students enrolled at the Ithaca, Weill Cornell Medicine and Cornell Tech campuses during the spring 2021 semester. It yielded a response rate of 38 percent, similar to the response rate of the past two surveys conducted in 2017 and 2019.
The survey found that the percentage of respondents who have experienced one or more forms of harassment, including being told sexual remarks, being told insulting or offensive comments relating to appearance, sexual actvities or gender, has dropped from 50 percent in 2019 to 44 percent this year. The University said this decrease is statistically significant.
The percentage of surveyed students who have experienced nonconsensual sexual contact involving physical force, threats of physical force or incapacition since matriculating to Cornell has also declined from 13 percent in 2019 to 11 percent this year.
Consistent with the previous survey results and national data, the University statement on the 2021 data also says that groups including undergraduate women, LGBTQ+ students, gender nonconforming and nonbinary students and students with disabilities report experiences of harassment and assualt at significantly higher rates. These include harassment, stalking, domestic and dating violence and nonconsensual sexual contact.
Only 16 percent of respondents said they had contacted a University or community-based resource to talk about their nonconsensual sexual contact experience, which is about the same percentage reported in the 2019 survey. However, the majority of survey participants with these experiences talk to a friend, spouse, or romantic or sexual partner about their experiences.
“This demonstrates the important role we all can play in fostering a culture of caring on our campuses,” the statement read.
The survey consisted of six sections, with two additional sections depending on how students responded to the initial six sections. All students who responded to the survey were asked questions about background information, knowledge of Cornell resources and policies, sexual and gender-based harassment, stalking, contact and perceptions of Cornell students’ behaviors.
Survey respondents who indicated that they had been in some type of partnered relationship while attending Cornell received questions about domestic and dating violence. Those who said they had experienced any incidents of nonconsensual sexual contact were then asked follow-up questions regarding the experience that had affected them the most.
It is unclear what impact the COVID-19 pandemic has made on the statistically significant decreases in survey respondents who report harassment and nonconsensual contact.
“Most courses were held remotely … students were cautioned about socializing in person and being in close contact with others… and many activities were halted or shifted to remote-only, factors that may have contributed to the decrease in incidents of unwanted sexual harassment or contact,” the University wrote in the statement.
The current framework of prevention efforts, which the survey acknowledges, emphasizes proactive bystander interventions and the creation of healthier social environments.
The University also offers resources, including Cornell Health’s Skorton Center for Health Initiatives and The Office of Institutional Equity and Title IX, which respond to sexual assault and related misconduct through education, coordinated victim support and enforcement of university policies. It also offers victim advocacy resources, emergency services, confidential support, healthcare and reporting options.
Members of the Cornell Community may consult with the Victim Advocate by calling 607-255-1212, and with Cornell Health by calling 607-255-5155. Employees may call the Faculty Staff Assistance Program (FSAP) at 607-255-2673. An Ithaca-based Crisisline is available at 607-272-1616. The Tompkins County-based Advocacy Center is available at 607-277-5000. For additional resources, visit health.cornell.edu/services/victim-advocacy.