Officials to reevaluate approach to sexual violence survey

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Source: University Title IX office

After releasing the results of the second campus climate survey on unwanted sexual behavior, officials are revisiting their future approach to the survey.

The results, which were released last week, do not differentiate responses from graduate and undergraduate students — a change Title IX Coordinator Rory Muhammad said was implemented to focus more on the whole student body. Muhammad said his office’s approach to the survey continues to evolve, and they will conduct the survey less often to have more time to evaluate how effective programs are.

The 2014 survey — the first of its kind at GW — broke down the responses to each question by undergraduate and graduate students, revealing that a larger percentage of the responding undergraduates had experienced unwanted sexual behavior. But that figure was smaller than the total number of graduate students who reported incidents.

The office did not break down each question by graduate and undergraduate respondents this year because officials wanted to focus on “the opinions and experiences of the overall campus population,” Muhammad said.

And the office will conduct the survey less often after this year: Muhammad said last year that he planned to conduct annual campus surveys, but the office is now revisiting that approach to better gauge the impact of the programs they offer based on the surveys’ results.

“We believe the best approach is to administer the survey approximately every two years, so the University has time to implement any measures and then assess the effectiveness of any initiatives put in place before re-administering another survey,” Muhammad said.

The results from this year’s survey were released nearly a year after the questionnaire was released to students.

The Title IX Office also added questions to this year’s survey to learn more details about when incidents took place and to identify the range of types of unwanted sexual behavior on campus, Muhammad said.

Muhammad declined to comment on what his biggest takeaways from this second survey were and how the results will impact his goals for the academic year.

No separation of responses
Of the 715 students who completed this year’s survey, about 55 percent were graduate students. The remaining were undergraduates and a handful of non-degree-seeking students, Muhammad said.

In the 2014 campus climate survey, most responses were broken down by graduate and undergraduate answers. Each question’s results in the 2015 survey only display the general responses and do not break down how graduates answered versus undergraduates.

When asked if the respondent had experienced unwanted sexual behavior while enrolled at GW in 2015, 13 percent said yes, compared to the 2014 survey when 22 percent of undergraduate and 6 percent of graduate respondents said yes. Of those who said they experienced unwanted sexual behavior, only 9 percent reported the incident in the 2015 survey, while 25 percent of graduate and 10 percent of undergraduate students reported the incident in the 2014 survey.

Sixty-six percent of those who reported to have personally experienced sexual violence or who know someone who experienced an incident said the events occurred off campus — an increase from just 13 percent of undergraduate and 4 percent of graduate students that reported off-campus incidents in 2014. It’s unclear how many of the 66 percent were undergraduate or graduate students because of this year’s reporting method.

Alec Smidt, a doctoral student in clinical psychology at the University of Oregon who helped update survey measures and analyze results for his institution’s second campus climate survey, said when constructing the survey, officials formatted questions and analysis in the same way both times to accurately compare answers from year to year.

Undergraduates typically live in residence halls and socialize on campus, which makes their risk of sexual assault on campus different than that of graduate students, who vary in age and often live off campus, Smidt said.

“It is really important because the undergraduate experience is vastly different from the graduate experience,” Smidt said. “The risk they face is much different.”

Moving forward
Of those who reported unwanted sexual behavior, 63 percent said they contacted the Title IX office — but 91 percent of respondents who experienced the behavior said they did not report it to authorities. Muhammad said he plans to increase the number of students who report sexual violence by reducing real and perceived barriers to reporting — like not knowing how to contact officials or the stigma around reporting an incident.

“We will continue make resources available to our students in a variety of ways including complaint processes, confidential reporting, counseling services, help with obtaining medical care, academic or housing accommodations, no-contact orders,” Muhammad said.

The first campus climate survey, which was taken by 713 graduate and undergraduate students, found 80 percent of students surveyed did not know how to contact the Title IX office.

Those results kick-started a student-led push for mandated in-person sexual assault prevention trainings at freshman orientation, which expanded this year to include individualized in-person workshops. First-year students are now required to attend sexual assault prevention trainings, and 97 percent of those students completed the in-person program in 2015.

In this year’s survey, 79 percent of respondents said they knew that GW has sexual harassment policies. Last year 80 percent of undergraduate students and 66 percent of graduate students said they knew about GW’s policies. The mandatory trainings raised awareness about University policies, Muhammad said.

There was also an increase of 12 percentage points in those who know how to contact the Title IX office from those who said they knew how in 2014. Muhammad said improvements by the Title IX Office, including the makeover of Haven’s website, also contributed to the increase.

“Over the last year there has been an increase in outreach material and the number of trainings presented to faculty, staff and students,” Muhammad said.

Kalpana Vissa, the co-president of Students Against Sexual Assault, said campus climate surveys are vital to help officials understand which programs are working. Mandatory education has increased students’ knowledge about the Title IX office, but there should be more transparency about the reporting process, Vissa said.

“The biggest takeaways are our education and outreach efforts about resources seem to be working, but there’s still a lot of work to do around preventing sexual assault and making people feel comfortable reporting,” Vissa said. “Increased transparency around this process, like disclosing the number of expulsions per year, could help survivors feel more comfortable coming forward.”

Katie Eichele, director of the Aurora Center for Advocacy & Education at the University of Minnesota, which develops policies and protocols for responding to sexual assault, said climate surveys provide institutions with data to assess the rates of sexual violence. Officials should use the data to identify students’ needs and create strategic plans to address them, Eichele added.

“Then institutions can train their frontline staff and leaders on what the reporting process is and be as transparent as they can,” Eichele said.

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