Low reporting numbers highlighted in AAU campus climate survey

Of the 78.8 percent of female victims of penetration by force, 61 percent did not believe the incident was serious enough to report.
Mary Hilleren / Graphic Designer

The Association of American Universities’ study on sexual assault and sexual misconduct has prompted many to compare MU’s results to other universities and has driven the conversation surrounding sexual violence and rape culture on campus.

“This study has been a benchmark,” said Dr. Jeni Hart, an associate professor of higher learning in MU’s Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis. “This is the first time this particular instrument has ever been used. So we don’t have any comparison and the other piece is that…there are very specific questions that make it very difficult to compare.”

The study revealed that at MU, 38.8 percent of senior women had experienced some form of completed or attempted nonconsensual sexual contact during in their time on campus. Of the total student body, 24.1 percent of seniors were victims during their time at the university.

The survey also studied other forms of sexual violence, including sexual harassment, stalking and partner violence. Female students had the highest rate of sexual harassment, peaking at 64.4 percent for undergraduates and 52 percent for graduate students.

The results for transgender, genderqueer and gender nonconforming students are even higher. For senior undergraduates who identify as TGQN, 41 percent are victims of nonconsensual sexual contact and 68.5 percent experience some form of harassment.

Hart said the statistics are important, but comparing them campus-to-campus is problematic because each campus has a different set of unique contexts. She said the presence of MU’s Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention Center, for example, may have affected the university’s results.

The previously widely used statistic that “1 in 5” women were sexually assaulted on college campuses came from the College Sexual Assault study in 2007. However, as the AAU summary of MU’s results explained, that number came from a study conducted on only two universities and may not be applicable on a national scale.

Dr. Rajeev Darolia is an assistant professor in the Truman School of Public Affairs with a background in methodology, and gave insight into the general validity of large-scale surveys.

For MU, 15 percent of students responded to the survey. A participation rate of 15 percent may seem low, but from a statistical standpoint, Darolia said it’s more important to look at who responded rather than the amount of people, because broad surveys need to represent those who might not usually have their voices heard.

“Typically, as researchers, what we look for is whether the sample represents the population, and that’s not necessarily based on the percentage or volume,” Darolia said. “It’s more based on whether we think those who responded reflect the attitudes of the broader population.”

While making the survey mandatory may seem like a simple solution to low response, it could’ve easily backfired.

“The other risk is if you force people to take a survey, and they’re compelled but they don’t care, they’re not engaged with it, often you’ll see falsified or just not well done answers,” Darolia said.

Changing the conversation

The study revealed that offenders don’t tend to fit the “strangers hiding in bushes” stereotype. For female victims, friends and acquaintances made up 49 percent of offenders of nonconsensual penetration by force and 70 percent of offenders who used incapacitation.

“I think there is this idea of the perfect victim — a young, beautiful white woman walking down the street late at night by herself and she just randomly gets attacked,” Feminist Student Union Co-President Emma Bagnardi said. “I think we all like to think that’s the perfect victim, those are the only people who experience this sexual violence. But in reality, that’s not the case. Most times it is from people we know.”

This culture of gender-based violence affects everyone on campus and comes from a variety of institutions.

“The reality is that men and women and anyone along the gender spectrum is getting the same message about gender and violence and about these things, so I don’t want to blame men in this scenario,” Hart said.

Statistics also suggest that the rate at which victims reporting incidents may be rather low — 97.3 percent of male victims of nonconsensual sexual touching and 78.8 percent of female victims of penetration by force did not report to a university program. Of female victims of penetration by force who did not report, 61 percent did not believe the incident was serious enough to report, according to the survey. Another 26.8 percent didn’t report because they did not want the offender to get in trouble.

A large part of what creates rape culture, Hart said, is an unsafe environment.

“Some of it may be in some pockets that we’re not prosecuting, that we’re making it difficult, that we’re not holding people accountable to the level that...we should hold someone accountable,” Hart said. “The consequences the don’t match the actual action. It becomes permissive.”

Hart emphasised that she did not want to blame on a single campus institution, since many organizations contribute to campus culture.

“I don’t want to blame athletics, I don’t want to blame fraternities and sororities, but those cultures do inform how we think about gender on this campus and how we thinking about violence and what is permissible,” Hart said.

Bagnardi, who is also an RSVP educator, said education about consent and more funding for organizations like the RSVP Center and Title IX Office is already underway to change campus culture. These efforts could discourage victim-blaming on campus, Bagnardi said.

Some education programs such as the mandatory Not Anymore training and the Green Dot program are in place.

“We need to be able to have these conversations about privilege and about power and where those messages come from, and I think standby training is another really important avenue,” Hart said. “We need to create a culture that we can talk about this.”

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