New survey shows details about sexual misconduct at KU’s peer schools; KU not releasing comprehensive data despite task force recommendation
One of the largest and most detailed surveys yet of campus sexual assault shared results on Monday, and it says nearly one in four women who responded said they’d experienced “nonconsensual sexual contact” by physical force, threat of force or while incapacitated at college.
It also includes the uncomfortable details about what that "contact" entailed — ranging from clothes-on rubbing to forced intercourse.
The Association of American Universities conducted its “Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct” at 26 AAU universities and one other school, polling students at the end of the spring 2015 semester (the full report is online here). Kansas University is an AAU member but did not participate in the survey, though most schools that did are fellow large public research universities.
I joined a national press call about the survey Monday morning. One key discussion point was the survey's breakdown of circumstances surrounding the students' encounters.
For one, the report differentiates between penetration (by anything — body part or object) and sexual touching such as kissing or groping. Bonnie Fisher, University of Cincinnati professor and consultant for Westat, the firm the AAU contracted for the survey, said it also breaks out why the behavior was nonconsensual, either because of physical force, incapacitation or “absence of affirmative consent.”
As for incapacitation, researchers said they defined it as “unable to consent or stop what was happening to you because you were passed out, asleep or incapacitated because of drugs or alcohol.” David Cantor, Westat vice president, said the language comes from a White House task force recommendation, tweaked “to make it very clear that we’re not just talking about being drunk, we’re talking about being so incapacitated that you can’t give consent.”
On to what the survey actually says. Key findings, according to the AAU’s overview:
• 11.7 percent of students who responded said they’d experienced nonconsensual sexual activity by physical force, threats of force or incapacitation while at college. (Note: The response rate was 19.3 percent, with 150,072 students participating, according to the report. Researchers said their analysis indicated that “non-victims may have been less likely to participate.”)
• The incidence of nonconsensual sexual activity was 23.1 percent among female undergrads. Of those, 10.8 percent experienced penetration.
A few more points, from the AAU’s summary:
• The risk of the most serious types of nonconsensual sexual contact (physical force or incapacitation) decline from freshman to senior year.
• Nonconsensual sexual contact involving drugs and alcohol constitute a significant percentage of the incidents.
• 28 percent or less of incidents are reported to university or law enforcement officials. More than 50 percent of victims of even the most serious incidents (e.g., forced penetration) say they do not report because they do not consider it “serious enough.”
• About half of respondents say they think it's likely their university will conduct a fair investigation if sexual misconduct is reported.
• A little less than half of the students have witnessed a drunk person heading for a sexual encounter. Among those who reported being a witness, most did not try to intervene.
• About a quarter of the students generally believe they are knowledgeable about the resources available related to sexual assault and misconduct.
Why didn’t KU participate?
In the conference call, AAU leaders said most member universities that opted out were doing or planning their own surveys. KU says that's the case here.
"The university has been doing its own climate survey for four years now and does so each year," KU spokeswoman Erinn Barcomb-Peterson said. "The most recent one was sent out via email to students on Feb. 10." Results of the surveys are posted on KU's Office of Institutional Research and Planning website, here.
The AAU said many schools that participated in its survey also would release school-specific aggregate data the same day. University of Missouri, for one, beat the AAU to the punch in releasing comprehensive sexual assault data from the school's Title IX office last week, according to a report in the MU student newspaper.
KU — citing confidentiality and the possibility of identifying individual victims, after past requests — has not publicly released such comprehensive data about sexual assaults reported to its Office of Institutional Opportunity and Access.
I've gotten and reported some numbers through interviews (related story: "Sex assault persists in KU student culture despite organized administrative efforts") and reports at meetings (related story: "Sexual violence and related complaints doubled at KU in 2014"). In December, KU did release a list of sanctions imposed for sexual harassment (related story: "KU expels 8 students over sexual harassment since May 2012").
The Sexual Assault Task Force — which also was unable to obtain detailed aggregate data from KU upon request — recommended that change in its final report, saying this:
Little data and information are available about how cases proceed through the campus resolution system for sexual assault cases. The KU community is not informed in aggregate or in particular cases about what happens to sexual assault complaints that are made. This lack of transparency undermines trust and prevents effective, tailored policy responses.
KU should regularly collect and post online information and data about the nature and resolution of sexual assault complaints filed at IOA. This information should include, but not be limited to, day of week, time of day, on-campus or off-campus, location (dorm, fraternity/sorority, private residence, other), whether alcohol or drugs were involved, relationship of victim/survivor and perpetrator, or if the incident in any way was connected with a KU event or activity.
KU responded that the university has already implemented that Task Force recommendation by releasing the information on sanctions. "Moving forward, KU plans to continue providing data regarding sexual assaults and the resulting disciplinary actions on a regular basis, probably annually," Barcomb-Peterson said.
• That noise is only a test: Be advised, KU will conduct a campuswide test of its emergency public address system at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday. If you're on campus expect a 3-second alert tone followed by a test message. According to KU, speakers for the PA system have been installed in and around 84 buildings, reaching 98 percent of KU’s academic areas.
• Enrollment count expected this week: K-State's president said in his state of the university speech last week that his school's fall enrollment is down for the first time since 2006, according to an Associated Press report. For the moment that's unofficial, though. Official counts are taken on each university's 20th day of classes, and the Kansas Board of Regents expects to release official numbers on Friday, Regents spokeswoman Breeze Richardson said. By my estimation, that means KU's "census day" is Monday.
• KU announces two teaching awards: Associate professor of theater Nicole Hodges Persley received the Byron T. Shutz Award for Excellence in Teaching. Associate professor of communication studies Jeffrey A. Hall received the Ned N. Fleming Trust Teaching Award. Read more about the winning prof's in this KU news release sent out Monday.
By email at email@example.com, by phone at 832-7187 or on Twitter @saramarieshep.
You'll no doubt be hearing plenty during the coming weeks about the impending "fiscal cliff" over which the country is in danger of hurdling. That's the term being thrown around for the mandatory federal spending cuts and tax increases that will spring into place in January if Congress can't reach a budget deal by then.
That conversation will likely extend to the world of higher education. In fact, it already has, because even though a fall from a "fiscal cliff" sounds like it might be slower and more boring than falls from other types of cliffs, it could be quite harmful for research universities.
Because of this, KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little joined about 150 other presidents and chancellors from research universities around the country in signing a letter to President Obama and congressional leaders asking them to make sure to reach a sustainable deal in time to prevent those cuts, known as "sequestration." Also among the signers was Kirk Schulz, president of Kansas State University.
The letter was re-sent today after it was originally sent in July. The leaders of the Association of American Universities and the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, along with those 150 or so university leaders, wrote that the cuts would threaten all the federally funded research that happens at their institutions, as well as student aid that allows people to study at them.
The mandatory cuts would affect the federal agencies that fund so much of the research that takes place at KU and other universities, including the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health. It would also affect many federal financial aid programs, though Pell Grants would be protected.
The AAU and APLU also helped create a website, scienceworksforus.org, that tries to show how the "fiscal cliff" cuts would affect research around the country. The site says that it would reduce federal research funding to KU, K-State and Wichita State University by a combined $19 million annually (it does not divide that effect among the institutions).
Watch next month for a look at how the cuts would threaten research activities at KU. You can download the letter signed onto by Gray-Little right here, if you're interested.