Campus survey results contains clues on curbing sexual assault


Sara Halloran, Columnist

On Monday, Northwestern released its Campus Climate Survey report. The survey, distributed to students near the end of last school year, questioned its subjects about the sexual environment on campus, their own views on consent and what constitutes sexual assault. In some aspects, the report was encouraging: 97 percent of respondents agreed consent was essential before sexual activity.

But a few categories returned more disconcerting results. For example, only 68 percent of respondents said they would report a friend who raped someone, and 12 percent of responding undergraduate males — as opposed to 3 percent of undergraduate women — agreed that “many women who claim they were raped agreed to have sex and then regretted it afterwards.”

Clearly there is a gap between what we as a community claim to know about consent and how we actually treat instances of assault. From the minute undergraduates enter NU, we are inundated with messages of the importance of consent. My own initiation to NU a year ago included an “Essential NU” skit about the subject and a talk from Sexual Health and Assault Peer Educators about how to deal with various sexual situations. However, as soon as we are forced to think of abusers and rapists as our friends, our understanding seems to fall apart. This chasm, unfortunately, breeds a mistrust of the system among the student body, particularly among the most at-risk group for sexual assault: undergraduate females. Only 3 percent of this group agreed that sexual misconduct was “not at all a problem’’ at NU, and 18 percent thought it was “not at all likely” they would “experience sexual misconduct.” Overall, only 45 percent of all respondents believed it was “likely” or “very likely” NU would treat a report of sexual assault “fairly.”

Also noteworthy is the relatively low level of response to the survey. Twenty-seven percent of the total undergraduate female population and 16 percent of undergraduate males filled out the survey in its entirety. The people who took time out of their very busy schedules to complete an optional survey are likely the same people who have a vested interest in preventing sexual assault: survivors and friends of survivors of sexual misconduct, and members of student groups like Men Against Rape and Sexual Assault and SHAPE. I say this not to insinuate that people who did not respond are somehow lesser; as an undergraduate myself, I understand how easy it can be to forget to complete one of the many surveys sent out to the student body. I just hope that in future years, as our collective knowledge of sexual assault continues to grow, we will see a rise in the number of respondents.

The solution to the sexual misconduct problem plaguing NU is, simply put, to remove all ambiguity. Consent, agreed upon by respondents to be essential, is taught in a similar way. Educators emphasize the importance of enthusiastic and ongoing consent, ending all possibilities of miscommunication. We must start to think of other contributing factors in the same manner. Misogynistic language must be shot down summarily by friends and witnesses of perpetrators. Rapists and abusers, whether friends, enemies or anything in between, must be reported.

Similarly, the University needs to prove its commitment to ending sexual misconduct by treating reports with utmost seriousness and proving that they will punish, without hesitation, any institution that enables this behavior, no matter how powerful. I know I am echoing the refrain of many activists before me, but it needs to be said. The change in culture will not be easy, nor will it happen without mass participation. Especially vital will be increased efforts from men, who tend to perpetrate sexual assaults more than women. We owe it to sexual assault survivors to do better, not only as their friends, lovers and classmates, but as their fellow human beings.

Sara Halloran is a Weinberg sophomore. She can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].

The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.