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Emory releases results of student survey on sexual violence, harassment

Emory students participate in a campus march for Take Back the Night, dedicated to ending interpersonal violence and supporting survivors. This year’s “Emory Takes Back the Night” event is set for Monday, Oct. 28, at 7 p.m. at the Emory Student Center, room N104.

To understand how sexual violence impacts the lives of undergraduate, graduate, and professional students, in 2015 Emory launched its first comprehensive campus climate survey  — a broad examination designed to help shape prevention strategies and policies. 

Last year, the university followed up that groundbreaking work with an Emory Student Community Well-Being Survey intended to provide an update on student experiences with sexual misconduct, as well as the campus programs intended to prevent them.

Survey results released this week illustrate widespread awareness among Emory students of how to report sexual misconduct and growing participation in sexual violence prevention training programs, which participants overwhelmingly found to be helpful. 

In fact, respondents expressed an interest in seeing even more programs and resources to address targeted issues, such as support for racial and sexual minority communities and expanded training for graduate students.

A summary of the findings was presented to the University Senate on Tuesday, Oct. 22 and shared in an all-university email from Dwight A. McBride, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, and Carol E. Henderson, vice provost for diversity and inclusion, chief diversity officer and adviser to the president. 

The survey is an opportunity for the university to better understand students’ perceptions and incidents surrounding a range of unwanted encounters and harassment, from offensive comments to intimate partner violence and sexual assault. The anonymous survey also sought student views on education, prevention and response initiatives,” they wrote. 

“Emory will use the survey findings to better identify and comprehend the climate on campus and our students’ experiences so we can determine how to enhance, modify or change our programming,” they continued. “We want Emory students affected by issues of sexual violence to get the support they need and we will continue to promote prevention education programs.” 

The latest survey was completed by 4,390 undergraduate, graduate and professional students, yielding an overall response rate of 32.2 percent — a robust increase over t, says Jessica McDermott Sales, associate professor of behavioral sciences and health education at Rollins School of Public Health, who co-chairs the University Senate Committee for the Prevention of Sexual Violence, which spearheaded both studies.

“Students clearly felt it was an important topic to engage with,” Sales says. “Given the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, we’re in a very different time and space about acknowledging the sexual violence and sexual harassment that’s happening not only at universities, but many other places, too.”

Key findings

The 2018 survey, which was online, voluntary and anonymous, asked students on Emory’s Atlanta and Oxford campuses to report on a variety of experiences with sexual misconduct — from assault and stalking to coerced sexual contact, intimate partner violence, and harassment. 

Questions focused on the 2017-2018 academic year, examining experiences with sexual violence not only while at Emory, but also prior to arriving at Emory, a scope that “helps us better understand the kinds of campus resources we need to have available,” says Sales.

The report highlights key findings:

  • About 15 percent of Atlanta undergraduate women and 15.5 percent of Oxford undergraduate women who responded to the survey experienced sexual assault during the 2017-18 year.
  • About 5 percent of undergraduate men on the Atlanta campus and 8 percent of undergraduate men on the Oxford campus who responded to the survey experienced sexual assault.
  • Across both campuses, undergraduate women reported higher rates of sexual violence than other campus groups, with first- and fourth-year women experiencing the most incidents of sexual assault and rape. 
  • Among graduate and professional students, more than one-third of female respondents reported experiencing sexual assault prior to arriving at Emory.
  • Across all types of sexual misconduct, students who identified as sexual minorities (LGBTQ) and those with registered disabilities reported higher rates of sexual violence. 
  • Sexual assaults on both campuses peaked during September and October.
  • Among undergraduates who experienced sexual violence, most knew the perpetrator, either as an acquaintance or friend-of-a-friend.
  • Official reporting of sexual violence was low. In fact, a majority of students who were victims of sexual violence chose not to report the incident; reasons included “did not think the incident was serious enough,” “did not want to take action,” and “did not need assistance.”
  • Some respondents urged Emory to address specific concerns, including creating more resources related to graduate students, consent and incapacitation, LGBTQ and minority issues, Greek life, and male victimization.

The survey also found that while student respondents generally reported a high awareness of how to report sexual violence on campus and acknowledged the value of attending trainings on sexual violence prevention, that exposure was largely limited to programs provided primarily during student orientation.

“If the most training a student receives is during first-year student orientation, that could suggest a limited exposure over their many years on campus,” Sales says. “We need to be mindful of that and build upon those training activities.” 

Among student respondents who experienced sexual assault, the survey found most chose to tell someone close to them about the incident rather than officially reporting it. Among undergraduate women on the Atlanta campus, less than 10 percent of incidents of sexual battery or rape were reported to a campus official, be it a faculty or staff member, a crisis or advocacy center employee, hospital worker, or campus police officer. 

“Unfortunately, this is not uncommon,” Sales says. “Across the spectrum of sexual violence, we know that very few incidents are reported. Overall, the data mirror trends we are seeing on other university campuses.”

Charting the path forward

Following the 2015 survey, the Committee for the Prevention of Sexual Violence offered a series of recommendations for Emory to strengthen its sexual violence prevention programs, and many were adopted, notes Sales.

That resulted in enhanced Title IX services on both the Atlanta and Oxford campuses, expanded messaging and training to help students better understand the reporting process, and added staffing support for the Office of Respect, a 24-hour support service that helps Emory students impacted by interpersonal violence, she says.

“From resources to new hires, a lot of important infrastructure has been put in place,” Sales says. “The university has also invested by committing funds to continue the campus climate survey, which promises to help keep these topics raised in public dialogue.”

In their campus-wide letter, McBride and Henderson acknowledge the changes, including the recent appointment of Yolanda Buckner as Emory’s new University Title IX coordinator, and resolved to expand support for sexual violence prevention programming that “addresses the full spectrum of incidents and experiences reported by undergraduate, graduate, and professional students.”

“Sexual violence is not tolerated at Emory, and we will continue to take prompt and equitable action when misconduct occurs,” they wrote. “While we have made progress in our goal to reduce incidents of sexual violence in our community, there is more work to do. We will improve.”

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