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Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, April 3, 2015

For our first roundup of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, we have a Presidential Proclamation for SAAM 2015, the results of a new survey on millennials’ beliefs about the prevalence of sexual assault, and Yale’s rollout of a new survey on sexual violence.

Presidential Proclamation

In recognition of National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month 2015, President Obama issued a Presidential Proclamation, declaring “During National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month, let us commit to being part of the solution and rededicate ourselves to creating a society where violence is not tolerated, survivors are supported, and all people are able to pursue their fullest measure of happiness without fear of abuse or assault.” The White House Task Force established in January 2014 helped bring campus sexual assault out of the shadows by issuing its First Report and creating the website www.NotAlone.gov to make Department of Education enforcement activities, as well as resources for students and schools easily accessible. In addition, the White House 1 is 2 Many report commemorated the 20th anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act. However, as this report points out, while VAWA changed intimate partner violence from a “private family matter” to a crime, much remains to be done to eliminate sexual violence.

Three-Quarters of Millennials Think Sexual Assault is Common on College Campuses

A new survey of millennials (here defined as people born between 1980 and 2000) conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute, offers insight into that age group’s beliefs about the prevalence of sexual assault. 73% of millennials said they believed that sexual assault was somewhat or very common on college campuses. A further 60% of those surveyed said that colleges do not do enough to address the problem. The numbers are particularly notable when contrasted with the results of a similar question asked of college presidents in a recent Higher Education survey: just 32% agreed that sexual assault was prevalent on American campuses, and only 6% believed it was prevalent on their own campus. This piece from the Washington Post has some enlightening analysis on the significance of those very different results.

Yale Rolls Out Climate Survey

We’ve reported before on the Association of American Universities’ campus climate survey on sexual misconduct. Schools are now beginning to administer that survey, known as the Campus Sexual Climate Survey. Yale University launched the survey yesterday, making it available to its entire population of graduate and undergraduate students. When all is said and done the AAU survey will be administered by 27 schools and reach more than 800,000 students. The AAU and participating universities hope that the results, when released, will help introduce much needed data into the conversation about campus sexual assault.

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Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, March 20, 2015

For this week’s roundup we have the results of a survey of college presidents and two upcoming events relevant to campus sexual assault.

The Majority of College Presidents Still Think Sexual Assault Isn’t an Issue for their Campus

Last year we reported on the results of an Inside Higher Ed survey of college and university presidents that revealed that while 71% of respondents agreed higher education as a whole needed to improve responses to sexual assault, a whopping 95% of them believed their own institutions had adequate responses to allegations of assault. This year’s results reveal similar attitudes. 78% of college presidents believed sexual assault was not prevalent on their own campus. Over 75% said their own institution did “a good job protecting women from sexual assault.” Just under a third thought “Sexual assault is prevalent at U.S. colleges and universities.”

Sexual Assault Awareness Month is Coming, Niagara Falls to Turn Teal

Sexual Assault Awareness Month is just a few weeks away, and while the month will be a chance for organizations of all sizes to do what they can to raise awareness about sexual assault, the Niagara Falls Illumination Board will be taking the opportunity to highlight the issue in spectacular fashion. On April 12 Niagara Falls will be illuminated teal, the color of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, on both the Canadian and American sides of the border. This year’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month will focus on campus sexual assault.

CampusClarity at NASPA

Last but not least, and as many of you are probably aware, this coming weekend is the 2015 NASPA Annual Conference in New Orleans. Like last year, we’ll be at the conference to learn, engage in conversation, and of course offer information about our own Campus SaVE Act and Title IX training. If you want to learn more, or just meet our team, come to booth 405 or our free cocktail event. If you do, you’ll have the chance to win a free iPad! Finally, if you know you want a demo at the show, feel free to schedule one in advance using this link.

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Measuring Sexual Violence
Posted by On Thursday, January 15, 2015

Last month we wrote about what we learned from the Bureau of Justice Statistics new report, “Rape and Sexual Assault Among College-Age Females, 1995-2013.” We noted that the rates reported by the BJS, which were based on the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), differ from other widely cited statistics about the prevalence of rape among college-age women. In this post, we’ll dive deeper into why these numbers are so different.

What Are the Other Reports?

The NCVS is one of three recent surveys that researchers have used to study rape and sexual assault among college students and in the general population.

The other two are:

The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS) 

The Campus Sexual Assault Study (CSA)

Other surveys worth mentioning are the National Violence Against Women Survey and The Sexual Victimization of College Women. Though both studies date to the late 90s, their findings have also been widely cited and can provide useful context and background for anyone who wants to understand this complicated issue.

They Do Different Things

The NISVS, CSA, and NCVS differ in purpose and methodology.

NCVS is a survey about crime. The survey grew out of the realization that many crimes were not reported to police and that a more accurate measure of victimization was needed. Hence, unlike the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting, the NCVS surveys respondents about both reported and unreported crimes.

CSA and NISVS approach rape and sexual assault from a public health perspective. The purpose of the CSA was “To examine the prevalence, nature, and reporting of various types of sexual assault experienced by university students in an effort to inform the development of targeted intervention strategies.” The NISVS’s primary objectives are to measure the prevalence of intimate partner violence and the impact and health consequences of this violence on victims.

They Employ Different Survey Methods

The NCVS follows a group of households over several years, interviewing them every six months. In contrast, the CSA and NISVS are surveys that capture responses from a single point in time. The NCVS asks respondents about events that happened since the last interview, whereas the CSA and NISVS ask about events that occurred during a specified reference period.

The problem in the CSA and NISVS’s approach is that respondents may unintentionally over report the experiences by including events that fell outside the time frame as if they fell within the time frame. According to NCVS, the reporting of traumatic events may be particularly prone to this effect (called telescoping). Thus cross-sectional studies (like the CSA and NISVS) may end up with higher rates than longitudinal studies like the NCVS.

In the NCSV and NISVS, the researchers interview the respondents. This allows them to clarify any confusion around questions but also introduces the possibility that the interviewer might steer or otherwise affect the subject. The CSA, on the other hand, was a web-based survey, which eliminated the influence the interviewer might exert on the respondents but also prevented the respondents from clarifying any confusion they may have had.

They Use Different Definitions

Because the NCVS is a survey about crime, it uses definitions of rape and sexual assault that are “shaped from a criminal justice perspective.” CSA and NISVS use broader definitions of sexual assault that may include incidents that do not rise to the level of a crime. See definitions below (warning: the definitions include explicit language).

The NCVS defines rape as “the unlawful penetration of a person against the will of the victim, with use or threatened use of force, or attempting such an act.” Sexual assault is defined more broadly and generally involves unwanted sexual contact.

The CSA measures rape due to force and incapacitation (that is, when the victim is incapacitated by drugs or alcohol). It also measures unwanted sexual contact.

The NISVS measures five types of sexual violence: rape (including due to incapacitation), sexual coercion (“unwanted vaginal, oral, or anal sexual penetration that occurs after a person is pressured in a nonphysical way”), being made to penetrate someone else, unwanted sexual contact (such as kissing or fondling), and non-contact unwanted sexual experiences (such as flashing or harassment).

They Ask Different Questions

NCVS asks directly about rape, whereas CSA and NISVS both use behavioral cue questions.

For example, the NCVS asks, “has anyone attacked or threatened you in any of these ways…any rape, attempted rape, or other type of sexual attack.” Whereas the NISVS and CSA avoid the terms rape and focus instead on describing events that would qualify as sexual assault or rape, “When you were drunk, high, drugged, or passed out and unable to consent, how many people ever…had vaginal sex with you?”

The way these questions are asked influences how respondents answer. Critics of the NCVS suggest that by asking directly about rape, it fails to measure victims who have experienced rape but may not realize it or may not wish to acknowledge it. Critics of the CSA and NISVS’s questions suggest that they over report sexual assault by using broader and potentially confusing definitions.

They Survey Different People

The CSA only surveys students, and the NISVS does not ask respondents whether or not they are students. Thus, NCSV is the only one of the three surveys that allows researchers to reliably compare rates between students and non-students.

It should also be noted that while both the NCVS and NISVS survey the general population, the CSA only surveyed undergraduate students at two large public universities (one in the South and one in the Midwest).

Interested in More Information?

The National Crime Victimization Survey offers its own discussion of why rates of sexual violence vary between different surveys. We recommend that you read their analysis.

 

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McCaskill Survey Produces Disturbing Results
Posted by On Thursday, July 10, 2014
McCaskill Survey Produces Disturbing Results

Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, March 14, 2014

A national fraternity is making big changes, while college presidents don’t think they have to. It’s this week’s Weekly Roundup!

College Presidents Agree Colleges Have a Sexual Assault Problem—Just Not Their College

Much of this blog is dedicated to the epidemic of sexual assaults afflicting college campuses. Much of that coverage has focused on schools’ all-too-often inadequate responses to allegations of sexual assault. Now, a new study suggests that college presidents are aware of at least part of the problem—71% of college presidents agree that institutions of higher education need to improve their response to sexual assault. Which institutions exactly need to clean up their act is unclear however, as 95% of those presidents surveyed asserted that their schools “handle sexual assault allegations appropriately.”

New Lawsuit Challenges the Campus SaVE Act

One possible solution to the issues 95% of college president’s don’t think their institutions have is the Campus SaVE Act, which lays forth at least some guidelines for how schools deal with and attempt to prevent sexual assault. However, a lawsuit filed earlier this month asks a federal court to stop application of Campus SaVE Act provisions in all campus disciplinary proceedings, as well as a pending federal investigation of the University of Virginia’s mishandling of a sexual assault case.  The lawsuit contends that the Campus SaVE Act, which took effect last October, is one step forward, two steps back for victims of sexual assault because it “eliminat[es] the preponderance standard set forth three years ago by the DOE. It also removes the time limit for colleges to resolve sexual assault cases.” They want the court to resolve any conflicts between the Title IX guidelines in the 2011 Dear Colleague Letter and the Campus SaVE Act.

However, U.S. Senator Robert Casey, the senator who originally drafted the Campus SaVE Act, says the Campus SaVE Act was not intended to supersede Title IX requirements in the DCL. Casey told the Rulemaking Committee currently drafting the implementing regulations that, “institutions will still be subject to Title IX obligations … to use the ‘preponderance of evidence’ standard,” as well as the requirement that proceedings be “prompt and equitable.”

SAE Fraternity Ends Hazing Nationwide

In the past few weeks we’ve included stories about the pros and cons of the impact Greek organizations have on campuses and student life. Now, it seems that at least one Greek organization—the fraternity Sigma Alpha Epsilon—has been listening to their critics. Their national office announced this week that, following a number of deaths linked to hazing and substance abuse, they would end hazing at their chapters nationwide.

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Campus Climate Surveys and the “Information Problem”
Posted by On Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Education surveys are nothing new. In fact, the Department of Education was established in 1867 to collect “such statistics and facts … as shall … promote the cause of education throughout the United States.”1 In his 1860 education treatise, Herbert Spencer said that asking people how they “think, feel, and act under given circumstances” to solve social problems was a self-evident conclusion: “Society is made up of individuals … and therefore, in individual actions only can be found the solutions of social phenomena.”2

Fast forward to the 21st century and schools are using student surveys to help them address the epidemic of sexual assault affecting college women. In a previous post we talked about the University of Montana’s “rape-tolerant campus” and its agreement with the U.S. Department of Education to take steps to change the campus climate.

On October 29, 2013, the University of Montana used Amazon gift cards to entice students to complete an annual safe campus survey on their knowledge, attitudes, program use, and experiences. The survey will help UM develop “effective programs and [create] positive change in sexual and interpersonal violence,” said UM psychology professor Christine Fiore. This annual survey is part of the “blueprint” for Title IX compliance that resulted from UM’s settlement agreement with the ED. The blueprint also includes educating students, faculty, and staff on what is sexual misconduct and how to file complaints.

Other investigations by the ED’s Office of Civil Rights call for annual student surveys. The State University of New York reached a settlement agreement with ED on October 31, 2013, and will begin conducting annual campus climate assessments to help improve sexual misconduct policies and procedures at its twenty-nine campuses. In May 2013, the Yale News reported that the school’s second “campus climate assessment” found, based on feedback from more than 300 students, it was making progress in addressing sexual misconduct issues.

In addition to a federal investigation, there is the risk of expensive Title IX liability to victims. When schools are faced with six- and seven-figure settlements, why does it take a federal investigation to get to the root of the problem? One possible explanation is what legal scholar Nancy Chi Cantalupo calls an “information problem” about sexual assault and how that impacts a school’s reputation for safety.

According to Cantalupo, many schools are reluctant to confront the problem of sexual violence precisely because helping victims and punishing perpetrators requires reporting. Increased reporting drives crime statistics up and makes the school look like a dangerous place to send your children. On the other hand, when victims are discouraged from reporting crimes statistics go down, making the school look safer. Thus, schools have an incentive to discourage reporting to protect their reputations.

However, sociologists and criminologists who study campus violence suggest that ignoring the problem feeds a rape-tolerant culture that leads to higher rates of sexual assault.3 Fortunately, these tragic consequences are turning into stricter enforcement and grassroots action: federal complaints by sexual assault victims are increasing, Title IX enforcement is being taken more seriously,4 and student organizations like Know Your IX are focusing national attention on the problem.

Cantalupo argues that annual student surveys provide more accurate information on the incidence of sexual violence, which helps schools turn their policies, procedures, and education programs into meaningful change. Therefore, Cantalupo recommends that all schools require students to respond to a campus climate survey before they can graduate or register for classes.

Tucker Reed has filed two federal complaints over the University of Southern California’s handling of her sexual assault complaint. She agrees that exit surveys of graduating seniors would not only be a better way to find out how many students were sexually assaulted while in college, but could also “pinpoint which programs are working and which aren’t.”

Student surveys provide a direct source of data that inform a school’s Campus SaVE Act education programs, and confront the sexual assault problem with a targeted approach to reducing the rate of sexual violence in all schools, not just those featured in the latest headlines for another federal investigation.


1. The History and Origins of Survey Items for the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System. Report of the National Postsecondary Education Cooperative (2011).
2. Spencer, H. Education: Intellectual, Moral, and Physical, p. 70 (London: D. Appleton and Company 1860).
3. Cantalupo, N. Burying Our Heads in the Sand: Lack of Knowledge, Knowledge Avoidance, and the Persistent Problem of Campus Peer Sexual Violence (2011) 43 Loyola Univ. Chicago L.J. 205, 218.
4. Cantalupo says, “In fiscal year 2009, OCR had 582 full-time staffers—fewer than at any time since its creation. And it received 6,364 complaints, an increase of 27% since 2002,” citing Lax Enforcement of Title IX in Campus Sexual Assault Cases: Feeble Watchdog Leaves Students at Risk, Critics Say, Center For Public Integrity (Feb. 25, 2010).

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