Northwestern student survey reports widespread sexual misconduct


Source: 2015 Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Misconduct; Graphic by Rachel Dubner/The Daily Northwestern

Alice Yin, Campus Editor

Nearly one in three women have been groped without consent while at Northwestern, according to findings from the University’s 2015 Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Misconduct released Monday.

The survey was circulated last spring, representing the first large-scale effort to study NU students’ perceptions and experiences of sexual misconduct issues, said University spokesman Al Cubbage.

“The report is a start, and we definitely want to continue collecting this info and listen to what our community is saying about what’s missing,” Renee Redd, director of the Women’s Center, said. “Students are the most important group that we need to listen to.”

Title IX coordinator Joan Slavin, Provost Daniel Linzer, Deputy Title IX coordinator Tara Sullivan and CARE director Erin Clark said they were unable to comment on the survey Monday.

About 15 percent of undergraduate and graduate students, or almost 3,000 people, responded to the optional study, with more than one in five undergraduates participating.

Redd said she found some of the survey results a troubling indication of the school’s current attitude. Only 7 percent of students who experienced sexual misconduct indicated they formally reported the incident. Reasons for hesitation include not believing the incident was serious enough (68 percent), that the act was not malicious (53 percent) and that they were reluctant to instigate legal and disciplinary action (45 percent).

“It’s widely accepted that sexual misconduct, sexual assault, is the most underreported crime,” Cubbage said. “It’s a national issue, and I think the results here at Northwestern are really very similar.”

About 82 percent of undergraduate females and 42 percent of undergraduate males reported that they think there is a chance they will encounter sexual misconduct toward them on campus. Out of the female undergraduates, 11 percent reported being taken advantage of sexually, and 26 percent admitted to experiencing sexual harassment. For male experiences, 4 percent have been taken advantage of sexually, and 7 percent have been sexually harassed.

When asked directly about if they had been touched or fondled without consent, students reported higher numbers. Nearly 31 percent of female undergraduates said they have been touched without consent and 9 percent reported experiencing sexual intercourse without consent. Among male undergraduates, 9 percent reported being fondled and 2 percent reported sexual intercourse without consent.

“We are all concerned for that 31 percent figure that said they experienced someone touching them without their consent at Northwestern,” Redd said. “We have this perceived scale of what’s serious and what’s not serious. … But those are legally part of the definition of sexual assault.”

Nationally, a survey administered by the Association of American Universities across 27 colleges reported 27 percent of females have encountered a form of sexual misconduct, with about 7 percent of females reporting unwanted sexual intercourse.

Medill senior Haley Hinkle, who serves on the Campus Coalition on Sexual Violence, said although she is glad the University was transparent with the survey’s results, she found them deeply concerning.

“We confirmed some of the unfortunate things happening in the community,” said Hinkle, who worked last year to recommend the survey to NU. “Seeing that there are people uncomfortable in our community was not a good feeling this morning at all.”

When the question broadened to include any attempt at sexual misconduct, the numbers rose. Thirty-six percent of undergraduate females said they had someone attempt to fondle them forcefully, and 12 percent said they had someone attempt sexual intercourse without consent. For male undergraduates, 10 percent said they have encountered someone attempting to touch their body without consent, and 3 percent said they have encountered someone attempting sexual intercourse without consent.

Redd, a licensed psychologist, said denying or excusing such traumatic experiences can be a coping mechanism. However, those distressing feelings often remain with victims and cause them to withdraw from others, she said.

“Part of that is people fear it wasn’t the most egregious act,” Redd said. “‘I wasn’t raped, so it wasn’t that serious.’ …  It is a big deal. When you think of someone touching your body, it is a big deal. Our bodies are the boundaries that help us feel safe.”

However, Cubbage said the survey showed some positive findings. For example, about 59 percent of undergraduate survey participants said NU students respect each other’s personal space.

“Some of it was very encouraging,” Cubbage said, highlighting that 97 percent of respondents said it is important to obtain consent before sexual activity. “They unanimously agreed to that point across the board, among all schools, so I thought that was fairly significant.”

In conjunction with the findings, the University released an updated Policy on Sexual Misconduct that elaborates on the reporting procedure and the definition of consent. With only 52 percent of respondents saying they knew where to seek help on campus after sexual assault and 36 percent saying they know how to report an incident, NU decided to also clarify the steps student should take to report sexual assault.

The most important takeaway from the survey that isn’t obvious is that a lot of students aren’t really aware of the resources that exist on campus, including what happens when you file a complaint,” Weinberg senior Erik Baker, who served on the campus climate committee, said in a statement to The Daily. “Going forward, it’s important for NU to strive towards an environment where survivors feel less alone and supported.”

The procedure first focuses on emergency support for the victim, with resources and instructions for medical assistance, evidence preservation and counseling services. The next steps outline procedures for reporting the incident to law enforcement and the University, ending on a summary of what a formal investigation would entail and result in for all parties.

NU also expanded the definition of consent in the revised policy. The new explanation divides consent into four parts — knowing, active, voluntary and present and ongoing — and dedicated a section to explaining the role of alcohol and drugs in sexual activity and consent.

The policy states none of the rules are meant to stifle free expression. The policy clarifies that harassment is not protected as free speech, but the “two legitimate interests” of a safe environment and academic freedom can coexist.

Both Cubbage and Hinkle pointed to RTVF Prof. Laura Kipnis’ articles last year in The Chronicle of Higher Education, which sparked outrage among students over her comments on Title IX.

“Many students didn’t agree with her and voiced their concerns,” Hinkle said. “We’re part of an institution that values academic freedom where we can value those discussions (and) take the opportunity to remind everyone of having dialogue without silencing people or shaming anyone.”

Later this year, the University plans to mandate an online Title IX course for faculty, staff and graduate students who will work with undergraduate students. The class will be implemented in phases starting this quarter.

“It was encouraging that we are starting to think critically in direction to look out for each other,” Hinkle said. “Remember, we can’t ever be complacent about our community and students — we must keep moving forward.”

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