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Survey finds widespread sexual violence on campus

1 in 4 undergrad women, 1 in 3 TGQN students report non-consensual sexual contact

The 2019 Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct found that 24.5 percent of undergraduate women reported experiencing non-consensual sexual contact since arriving at Brown, according to survey results released Tuesday.

The survey, which the Association of American Universities conducted in April, also showed that roughly 30 percent of students identifying as TGQN — transgender, genderqueer, gender non-conforming, questioning or non-listed — reported the same experience, an increase of about five percent since similar data was collected in 2015.

After creating a sexual assault task force in 2015, the University will be able to use the 2019 survey results to evaluate the effectiveness of the task force’s recommendations for the first time. Recommendations included the creation of a Title IX office, a unified policy on prohibited forms of sexual and gender-based violence and mandatory sexual-assault prevention training for all members in the University community, The Herald previously reported.

Brown was one of 33 institutions that took part in the campus climate survey. All undergraduate, graduate and medical students were eligible to take the survey, which generated a response rate of 31.5 percent, or nearly 3,100 answers.

U. continues to grapple with prevalence of sexual assault

The Campus Climate survey broke down non-consensual sexual contact into three categories: any sexual contact by force or inability to consent, penetration by force or inability to consent and sexual touching by force or inability to consent.

The survey findings revealed that 11.6 percent of undergraduate women and 17.6 percent of TGQN-identifying students have experienced non-consensual penetration since arriving at Brown. Despite the difference in the percentages, there was not a “statistical difference” between the two groups, according to the report.

“The numbers around victimization by physical force or incapacitation for undergraduate women are still really high, and that’s deeply distressing,” said Payton Gannon ’20, co-president of Brown’s chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. She added that she has noticed greater awareness on campus around the issue as a whole. The LGBTQ Center and Queer Alliance could not be reached for comment as of press time.

The percentage of students who reported an experience of non-consensual sexual contact increased with class year. For instance, 14 percent of undergraduate women in their first year reported at least one incident of victimization, but the number increased steadily to 32.4 percent of women in their fourth year or higher.

The frequency of non-consensual sexual contact that students experienced since their arrival at Brown increased for three other demographics between 2015 and 2019: 8 percent to 9.5 percent among graduate women, 2.7 percent to 3.1 percent among graduate men and 6.8 percent to 8 percent among undergraduate men.

Non-heterosexual students also experienced non-consensual contact more frequently than heterosexual students: 23.8 percent compared to 11.1 percent, respectively, according to the data.

In the 2019 survey, over 75 percent of offenders were current Brown students in 2019, as compared to about 88 percent in 2015.

“We are in a really special moment, because we are able to look over a four year span, and look at our progress and talk about where we have opportunities to grow,” said Rene Davis, Title IX program officer.

Prevalence of sexual harassment

Around 48 percent of students reported experiencing “at least one type of offensive or inappropriate behavior of a sexual nature,” since their arrival to campus, according to the survey. TGQN students experienced harassment that affected their “academic or professional performance” at statistically significant higher rates than undergraduate women, with 47.5 percent reporting that they experienced an incident.

“There’s certain types of behaviors where different community members might be more vulnerable,” Davis said, “because our society hasn’t grappled with the fact that gender sits on a continuum, and for some people there is no continuum, there is no gender.”

The results also indicated a significant difference in the positions of perpetrators of sexual harassment, depending on whether the reporting student was a graduate or undergraduate. Among women who reported harassment, about one-third of those in graduate or professional school reported that faculty or an instructor was the offender, as opposed to only 5.3 percent for undergraduates.

University progress in tackling gender-based violence

The survey results will allow the University to assess the effectiveness of recommendations made by its 2015 sexual assault task force for the first time.

The percentage of students who believe that it is “very or extremely likely” that campus officials would fairly investigate a report of non-consensual sexual contact almost doubled, jumping from about 25 percent to just under 50 percent from 2015 to 2019. Similarly, 66.4 percent of students believe that it is “very or extremely likely that campus officials would take a report seriously,” compared to 50.5 percent in 2015. Women were less likely than men to hold these beliefs.

Over 40 percent of students who reported an incident of non-consensual penetration contacted a University program or resource about their experience; 18.9 percent of students who reported sexual touching did so as well. These numbers cannot be compared directly to results from the 2015 survey, due to a change in data collection.

“We’ve emphasized that reporting equals support,” Davis said. “Many students come forward not because they want to talk about the experience, but because they need an academic note, they need help in changing their housing and so (focusing) on outreach and support … has really enabled more students to come forward.”

To Davis, the support of the Office of Title IX and Gender Equity and the University has manifested in decisions such as expanding the Sexual Harassment & Assault Resources & Education program.

“Having the SHARE advocates has been a huge component to increasing the amount of reporting because students might talk with a confidential resource first, understand the role of the Title IX office, and then I will often have individuals come with a SHARE advocate to make a report to my office,” she said. “Bolstering our confidential spaces and how they can connect students to resources is really important.”

Students also indicated increased knowledge of the resources available to them to help with issues related to sexual misconduct. About 30 percent of students are “very or extremely knowledgeable about where to make a report,” a 10 percent increase since 2015.

But even as knowledge of some resources and policies have grown, Gannon noted that only 16.7 percent of students are “very or extremely knowledgeable about what happens after an incident is reported.”

“The ACLU is trying to do some work around that this semester, in clarifying and publicizing the processes of the Title IX office,” she said. “But I found that pretty disheartening.”

Going forward, Davis hopes to use the results from the 2019 survey to further refine the University’s work with sexual assault prevention and education. She also intends to share the results with community members through public presentations, which will occur next Monday and Wednesday.

Next, Davis will sit down with various student organizations, such as the Undergraduate Council of Students, the Graduate Student Council and Brown ACLU, as well as campus identity centers like the LGBTQ+ Center, to identify areas for improvement. Her office also plans to create a working group to further analyze the data and identify changes that the University can make.

Davis hopes to publicize the working group’s recommendations from studying the survey results by next spring.


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