When surveyed, 24.3 percent of female UNC undergraduates participating in the Association of American Universities’ Campus Climate on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct indicated they had experienced sexual assault since enrolling.
“It gives us a baseline of information that will help us refine and reform our prevention efforts,” said Felicia Washington, the vice chancellor for workforce strategy, equity and engagement. “I don’t think we’re ever going to be satisfied until we are at zero incidents and 100 percent prevention.”
UNC chose to participate in the study in April, along with 26 other institutions across the country. The survey asked questions about prevalence, perception of risk, bystander intervention and awareness of resources. The surveyors invited 28,353 students enrolled at UNC to participate in the study; a total of 5,212 completed it — a response rate of 18.4 percent.
Of UNC survey participants of all genders, 12.9 percent claimed to have experienced at least one behavior considered to be sexual assault, which the survey defined as any of these non-consensual activities: sexual touching through physical force or through incapacitation due to drugs or alcohol, completed penetration by physical force, completed penetration by incapacitation and attempted penetration by force.
Of female participants from UNC, 57.1 percent said they didn’t report an incident to the University or law enforcement because they felt it was not serious enough.
Student Body President Houston Summers said the University can better handle cases to lower the percentage.
“Survivors need to know that their case will be dealt with seriously and that they will be supported through it, and they should feel comfortable coming forward,” Summers said.
Christine Allison, of UNC Survivors Collective, said the percentage of students who didn’t formally report is important, and other numbers like the 74.1 percent of students who said they were knowledgeable about where to get help shouldn’t encourage complacency.
"(University officials) like talking about how good they are at telling people about the policy, but that’s not the problem,” Allison said. “They’re emphasizing what they’re doing right when there is so much that they’re doing wrong.”
Allison said survivors tend to fear perpetrators won’t be punished along with fearing that reports won’t be taken seriously. Summers said UNC’s sexual assault policy lists a wide range of possible punishments, from a written warning to expulsion.
“There’s no minimum punishment, so I guess technically, according to the policy, you could get a written warning for doing this, for all the cases,” he said.
Washington said she’s heard the rumor that perpetrators get only a written warning, but she said this isn’t true.
“My idea is that if you are found guilty of sexual assault on our culture, this is at least one year, at the very least one year suspension,” Summers said. “And that’s not to say the minimum punishment couldn’t or shouldn’t be expulsion.”
Summers said he wants to be removed from the Board of Trustees review process when the board hears appeals in sexual assault cases.
“I don’t want any part of it and I don’t think any student body president before me or any student body president after me should have any say in it,” he said. “I don’t think it’s appropriate. It pits that individual against the students they’re supposed to be representing.”
Allison said she would like to see another survey, asking different questions.
“The climate of the University is not defined by how many people are assaulted, but what happens after,” Allison said. “Are the survivors taken care of by the University and do they feel safe?”
The percentage of transgender, non-conforming, genderqueer and questioning students from UNC who reported sexual assault in the survey was higher than both female and male students — 26.3 percent.
“I think the University has done very little to address the fact that it’s not just white, straight, cis-gendered sorority girls being assaulted,” Allison said. “People are more susceptible to assault if they are already marginalized.”
Christi Hurt, the assistant vice chancellor and chief of staff for student affairs, said the University is consistently working to make sure these groups feel protected. She said the task force’s alliance with the LGBTQ Center, the new sexual assault policy’s focus on being gender neutral and Safe Zone training should help, but UNC has more work to do.
“The challenge for us is trying to figure out ways to make our process as transparent as possible while also respecting individual privacy and confidentiality along the way,” Hurt said.