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Campus climate survey shows increase in reported sexual assaults

DTH Photo Illustration. Students from the University of Rochester along with 33 other Universities took a Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Misconduct.

In a survey released by the University on Tuesday, 34 percent of student respondents reported that sexual assault or other sexual misconduct is "very to extremely problematic" at UNC, a 9.5 percent increase from 2015. 

UNC released the results of the Association of American Universities’ 2019 Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Misconduct in a school-wide email. The University participated in the first AAU climate survey in 2015. 

The survey was originally emailed to the entire student population on Feb. 7 and was open to all undergraduate, graduate, and professional students for 30 days. Students who chose to participate did so anonymously and their data was kept confidential. 

“An anonymous survey is important to tap into people who don’t feel comfortable reaching out, and we really want to know what’s going on, what the perceptions are and what the climate is on our campus,” interim Workforce Strategy, Equity and Engagement Chief of Staff Katie Nolan said.

Since the University first took part in the survey in 2015, reported incidents of sexual assaults have increased.

According to the data, 35.3 percent of undergraduate female respondents reported experiencing sexual touching or penetration involving physical force (including attempted penetration), inability to consent or stop what was happening because the student was passed out, asleep or incapacitated due to drugs or alcohol, coercion or no voluntary agreement. 45 percent of women in their fourth year or higher reported the same. 

Nolan said the numbers are alarming, but not particularly surprising, considering the data from the past 20 years. 

“I was not surprised to see the numbers go up, because I do think as a product and a benefit of the awareness created around these issues nationally for the attention that assault on college campuses have brought as well as the Me Too movement,” Nolan said. “I think people are viewing these experiences differently, and considering experiences they’ve had or that they continue to witness, and recognize them as being problematic whereas maybe they hadn’t before this awareness has brought it out.”

Becci Menghini, interim vice chancellor for Workforce Strategy, Equity and Engagement, said that it is important to recognize that these are reports and that an increase in the number of reports on campus is not necessarily an indicator of whether sexual assaults have increased.

The issue of sexual assault and harassment is highly concentrated within the University, according to the report. Of the reported assaults, 72.1 percent of the offenders are UNC students. Faculty and staff can also be responsible for the assaults. 

“Around 20 percent of those who experience sexual harassment indicate that the offender was a faculty member or instructor,” Nolan said.

This provides important information for where education interventions need to be targeted, as well as assessing the effectiveness of resources and information for graduate students and faculty, Nolan said. 

For respondents who experienced incidents involving non-consensual penetration by physical force or inability to consent, 92.2 percent of both women and TGQN (identify as transgender, genderqueer, nonbinary, questioning or did not list an identity) students and 79.6 percent of men reported at least one type of behavioral or emotional effect. One of the most common effects named among all groups was the feeling of numbness or detachment.

“It’s a reminder to me that even if we have systems in place to provide support or to adjudicate these incidents once they happen, that doesn’t put the incidents to bed,” Menghini said. “It doesn’t make these things go away. The impacts are lasting and they go long beyond adjudication, they go long beyond the end of an incident, so our best solution is to ensure these events don’t happen to begin with.”

The majority of students assaulted, 82.5 percent, did not seek help from resources. The most common reasons were that the student did not feel the issue was serious enough because they weren’t injured or hurt, they perceive events like this to be common, as things began consensually or alcohol or drugs were present.

These barriers need to be overcome, and raising awareness is key in doing so, Nolan said.

“We have mandatory trainings, we have campaigns around consent," Nolan said. "So we need to really look at those to see how we can better communicate to students that the behavior is serious, that it does not matter if they were consuming alcohol, that alcohol is not an excuse to act against someone's will, that seeking out resources is essential to someone’s healing."

The survey also uncovered information about bystander behavior. 

Nolan said over 70 percent of respondents who witnessed a behavior or situation that could lead to an assault indicated that they intervened. Those who did not were asked why, and the overwhelming response was that they didn’t know what to do, Nolan said.

“That tells us that if students have the tools, the bystander intervention tools, they would use it," Nolan said. "We have work to do in terms of looking at our available bystander training for effectiveness, as well as looking for ways we can expand it to reach all pockets of campus."

The University’s immediate next step will be bringing groups together to have a discussion about how to move forward, Nolan said. 

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“We will, within the next month, bring together a coalition of students, faculty who work on these issues and staff to assess what we have, determine what’s needed. We’ll also have working sessions where we’re going to bring in subject matter experts to talk about those things and listen to recommendations,” Nolan said. 

The coalition will look to any untapped resources that are available on campus and nationally that may not be in use already, Nolan said.

The school will also continue to partner with the Town of Chapel Hill to ensure the ongoing safety of the community. Menghini said there are currently efforts underway to improve lighting and cameras on campus and improve areas where there has not been a lot of focus in the past, such as parking lots. 

“We continue to reinforce the idea that people should have buddies and take advantage of some of the resources available, but we’ll continue to look for more ways to ensure the ongoing safety of the community, both on campus and around campus,” Menghini said.