MU is in line with national trends that show students have become more educated on sexual assault in the past four years, but are no safer from being victimized, according to the Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Misconduct.
Rates of sexual assault and misconduct increased slightly from the rate measured on the last survey in 2015, but more students reported being informed about relevant school definitions and procedures.
“The results provide cause for both hope and continued concern. They reveal that, while students know more about university-sponsored resources for victims of sexual assault and misconduct, they still aren’t using these resources often enough,” Association of American Universities President Mary Sue Coleman said in a statement.
The survey from the Association of American Universities was conducted at 33 schools and polled 181,752 students. The rates of sexual assaults at MU reported in the survey have remained largely unchanged since they were measured four years ago, but the numbers indicate that students are well-informed about campus resources for victims.
More than 5,600 MU students, or about one-fifth of the student body, responded to the survey sent in April. Of those, 15% said they were raped or sexually assaulted during their time at MU. More than 19% said they had experienced harassment. Nationwide, 13% of students said they were raped or sexually assaulted and nearly 19% said they’d experienced harassment.
But women, nonheterosexual students, transgender students and students with disabilities experienced sexual assault and sexual harassment at significantly higher rates than the overall student population, the survey revealed.
The good news for MU? The survey indicates the university’s recent efforts to increase training and awareness related to sexual assault have paid off: better than 85% of MU students say they completed training on what constitutes sexual assault and harassment and 92% say they are familiar with at least one available resource to assist them if they are victims of sexual assault or harassment.
Of the MU students surveyed, 22% said they believe sexual assault and misconduct are very “problematic” at MU. This is a 7% drop from 2015, according to university officials. The survey question, however, does not define what is meant by “problematic.”
University officials say they are still working to ensure those changes translate to concrete improvements in student safety from sexual assault.
“When we have folks on our campus that are reporting that they have been a victim of a sexual assault or sexual misconduct, that is concerning, and we’re not happy with the number that we have,” Andy Hayes, assistant vice chancellor for civil rights, Title IX & ADA, said during a meeting with the press Thursday. The results of the 2019 survey were released to the public Tuesday. According to the university, the 20% response rate for the survey was significantly better than the 16% who completed the 2015 edition.
Read the AAU report on MU
Hayes said the increased awareness of her office was a positive development that came out of the response to the 2015 survey. This year’s results, she said, make it clear that students now need more information about what happens when they make a report, particularly for those who would rather avoid a more formal process.
“There are lots of options available to (students) that don’t involve a more formal process because I think that that can be intimidating for students,” Hayes said.
“But it does help when folks report so that we at least have a temperature of what’s happening on our campus,” she added. “So we really encourage that reporting, and we can offer you services and support in other ways.”
Of those who reported on the MU survey that they had been raped, fewer than a third of women contacted a program or resource such as the Title IX office, medical services or the police. Only one in 10 male rape victims did so.
For those who reported nonconsensual sexual touching, the numbers who reported were even lower for women but double for men.
In the coming years, Hayes said she’d like to see a “tangible” drop in the number of sexual assaults students experience. She said her office plans to reach out to students and groups such as the LGBTQ Resource Center to ask how better to support populations that are especially at-risk.
Graduate students at MU experienced lower rates of victimization, in general, though in most cases graduate women were in more danger than undergraduate men. Among students who experienced harassing behaviors, graduate women were more than three times as likely as undergraduate women to say the perpetrator was a teacher, adviser, boss, supervisor or coworker.
The rates of assaults on MU undergraduate women reported in the survey dropped by less than 1% from 2015, a difference researchers said was not statistically significant.
More than a quarter of MU undergraduate women said they had experienced a sexual assault or rape; for women in their fourth year or higher, the rate was nearly a third. Among undergraduate men, fewer than 8% reported being raped or sexually assaulted.
Undergraduate women were most at risk during their first year at MU. Hayes said more specific data point to August, September, October and March as the most dangerous months and said more could be done to target educational efforts to those time periods.
Even in the wake of the #MeToo movement, undergraduate women were less likely than undergraduate men to say university officials would take reports of sexual assault or misconduct seriously and less likely to think university investigations would be fair.
While nearly two-thirds of MU students said it was “very” or “extremely likely” that university officials would take reports seriously, among undergraduate women, the number was 56%, compared to 75% of undergraduate men. Overall, about 49% of MU students thought the investigations were very or extremely likely to be fair: Among undergraduate women, the number was 43%, compared to 52% of undergraduate men.
Hayes said she didn’t know why that would be the case, but she did note she was happy to see that mistrust of her office was not a common reason students said they refrained from reporting sexual assault or harassment. The most common reasons selected for not reporting were “I could handle it myself” or that the incident was not serious enough to report.
Nonheterosexual students and students with disabilities were at greater risk of sexual assault, harassing behavior and intimate partner violence, the survey showed.
For purposes of obtaining a statistically relevant sample, the survey combined transgender students and various categories of students that do not fit into the traditional male-female gender binary into a group it called TGQN.
More than half of TGQN students at MU said they experienced behavior that met the legal definition of harassment: behavior that interfered with their academic or professional performance, limited their participation or created a hostile environment. Less than a fifth of students in general experienced that level of harassment, though 43% said they experienced harassing behaviors.
TGQN students were least likely to trust university investigations of assaults, with only 37% at MU deeming it “very” or “extremely likely” that reports would be taken seriously and 30% believing that investigation would be fair.
Half said assault at MU was very or extremely problematic, while a quarter thought it was very or extremely likely that they personally would experience sexual assault, compared to around 7% of students overall and 13% of undergraduate women.
According to the MU survey responses, rates of sexual assault for TGQN students were slightly higher in most categories than those for undergraduate women, the other most victimized group, but not to a degree that was deemed statistically significant.
Hayes said she wasn’t sure why TGQN students were more concerned about sexual assault than a group with similar victimization rates. She suggested more “open dialogue with those student populations” was needed.
Hayes wasn’t surprised that TGQN students experienced rates of sexual assault similar to undergraduate women because that’s in line with national trends. She said, in her experience, transgender students tend to be targeted more often than many other groups but are less “inclined to report.”
An MU release also highlighted that the 29% percent of TGQN students who experienced sexual misconduct at MU is lower than the average of other institutions that completed the same survey: 40%. But those figures are misleading because the MU figure only includes rape and sexual touching while the national percentage includes more forms of sexual misconduct. The comparable figure for MU is actually 34%, while national rates of rape and sexual touching for TGQN students are about 20%.