Task force formed to look at AAU survey results

Almost one-third of MU senior women have experienced unwanted sexual contact while at MU.

The results from a campus climate survey from American Association of Universities will serve as a guide for administrators moving forward, MU officials said Monday.

The Campus Climate Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct Survey found that 30.8 percent of senior women at MU reported that they were victims of nonconsensual sexual contact involving physical force or incapacitation (drugs or alcohol). When the tactics of coercion, absence of affirmative consent and attempted sexual contact were factored in, the number jumped to 38.3 percent of senior women.

“The fact that an estimated 30.8 percent of our senior female students say that since they entered MU, they have been victims of some kind of unwanted sexual conduct is very disturbing to me,” Provost Garnett Stokes said. “These results show us that we still have much work to do … I will not be satisfied until no acts of sexual misconduct of any kind are committed at MU.”

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said the results highlighted the need for a campus sexual assault bill. She’s sponsoring the Campus Accountability and Safety Act, which will ensure transparency and cooperation between schools and their law enforcement, according to previous Maneater reporting.

“The results should be a wakeup call for all colleges and universities about this widespread, underreported crime on our campuses, and we’ve got to do a better job combating it,” McCaskill said in a statement.

The survey also looked into why students chose to report or not report. For people who reported experiencing penetrative acts involving force, 61 percent said they hadn't though the incident was "serious enough to report,” according to the breakdown of data provided by the AAU.

“Some students don’t seem to understand that nonconsensual sexual contact by force or incapacitation is serious,” MU Title IX Coordinator Ellen Eardley said. “We don’t accept that on our campus. It’s not acceptable, and we want them to report that to us. We want to hold students accountable for that kind of discrimination.”

About 15 percent of MU students took the survey. The AAU average response rate was 19.3 percent — a total of 150,072 students participated. The survey, which was developed by Westat, a social science research firm, was conducted in April and May 2015 at 27 participating universities.

Eardley said she wished the response rate would’ve been higher, but she said the numbers are a good sample of the student population.

Across all 27 universities, an average of 23 percent of women have experienced nonconsensual sexual contact. Out of the the 21 institutions who made their results public, MU had the sixth-highest percentage of women who reported experiencing nonconsensual sexual contact, according to data compiled by The Washington Post.

“The results of the surveys will be used to guide student education and prevention programs while ensuring that students affected by sexual harassment and gender-based violence receive appropriate support, resources and adjudication,” UM System President Tim Wolfe said in an email to students Monday afternoon.

The other three universities in the UM System conducted separate surveys of the campus climate around sexual assault and released those results Monday. While the differences between the AAU survey and the UM System’s survey make it difficult to compare the data, Wolfe said, “the results provide important information to each campus that can be utilized to inform our efforts to address sexual harassment and gender-based violence.”

To Eardley, the recent survey shows that sexual assault is a problem everywhere.

“Some students don’t understand that what is happening to them is important or severe enough to report,” Eardley said. “They don’t know that it’s a policy violation, and so our education and prevention measures need to do more to help students understand what sex discrimination really is.”

The Stokes-led task force was created to improve education efforts, outreach and prevention of sexual discrimination on campus. Membership is still being finalized. The Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention Center will play a key role in that task force.

The task force is one component of how MU wants to improve the campus climate. Peer educators continue to be an important part of MU’s prevention efforts. Eardley encouraged students to get more involved with the various peer education programs on campus.

“Students want to learn from each other about how to interrupt and stop this behavior,” Eardley said. “It empowers them to take action on our campus. I really encourage more students to get involved in that effort.”

Peer educators are trained by the RSVP Center to encourage discussions about sexual assault prevention, including bystander intervention techniques. Fifty-five percent of students said they had seen a drunk person heading for a sexual encounter, but 70 percent said they did nothing. Peer educators are in a position to address how to respond to these types of situations.

“Why would a student not speak up, and what would it mean if they did?” Eardley said.

Sexual assault is not solely confined to MU’s campus and is a problem the community faces at large, Eardley said.

“If we have a climate where sexual harassment occurs and is accepted then that is going to create a climate where sexual violence is acceptable as well; they’re all intertwined,” Eardley said. “So I would call on everyone throughout the university to step up and not allow sexual harassment to occur, to report it when it does happen, and to let us know so we can intervene.”

Katherine Knott contributed to this report.

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