04:53pm Monday 20 November 2017

Brown releases climate survey data on sexual assault and harassment to reinforce early call to action

Brown University, one of 27 institutions participating in a nationwide independent survey of campus climate on sexual assault, has made its own survey results public, with officials reiterating a call to action from a faculty-student-staff Sexual Assault Task Force last year. The survey was organized by the Association of American Universities, of which Brown is a member.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — With new data from a survey of Brown student experiences and perspectives on sexual assault and harassment, University officials are reiterating a call to action for the campus to work together to confront issues of gender-based violence.

The University today released comprehensive data from the Report on the AAU Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct gathered through surveys in April 2015 by Westat, an independent national research company. Brown was part of a 27-institution survey organized by the Association of American Universities (AAU).

Among the findings for Brown, the data show that since starting college, 25 percent of Brown undergraduate women and 6.8 percent of undergraduate men who participated in the survey experienced either unwanted sexual touching or attempted or completed penetration due to physical force or incapacitation. Specifically, for attempted or completed penetration in this category, the figure was 10.1 percent for female undergraduates and 2.7 percent for males. Among female graduate and medical students who responded to the survey, 8.0 percent reported unwanted sexual touching or attempted or completed penetration since starting at Brown, as did 2.7 percent of male graduate and medical students.

Westat provided each participating institution with its own data from the survey, and the AAU released an aggregate national report of survey results today while deferring to campuses to choose how to manage their institution-specific results.

“For Brown, the report reinforces our Sexual Assault Task Force’s call to action for confronting the very real problem of gender-based harassment and violence,” Brown President Christina Paxson said. “The results of the survey establish a clear baseline against which we can assess ourselves going forward and will continue to inform ongoing education and prevention efforts to address these problems.”

Brown has been working to transform its approach to sexual violence coinciding with campus activism on this issue since early 2014. A Sexual Assault Task Force of faculty, students and staff, given its charge in May 2014, submitted its final report at the end of the last academic year, and many of its recommendations already are in effect. As part of efforts to encourage continued campus community involvement on issues of sexual assault, Paxson shared a link to the climate survey report and all accompanying data with the campus community for today’s release of the report.

“Brown has come a long way since the AAU survey was conducted last April,” Paxson said in her email to the campus. “The data in the AAU report have revealed areas for ongoing attention, including education about available support resources and greater clarity around our procedures. While we have increased the transparency of our complaint process through the use of trained investigators and specified timeframes for each step, we are working to ensure the information is clear and accessible to the entire campus.”

The survey produced an extensive data set, with 63 core questions asked of every respondent and additional follow-up questions for different forms of victimization. The University has posted four documents, including the full Westat report for Brown, on its Title IX website:

Other links:

“We are determined to be effective, persistent, and transparent as we continue the work of ensuring the health and safety of the campus community,” Paxson said. The president’s letter presenting the survey to the community is available on the president’s website: brown.edu/go/president-climatesurvey

The campus climate: Other findings

Overall, 70.3 percent of all Brown student respondents reported they were very or extremely confident that a victim reporting sexual assault or misconduct would be supported by other students. Students who reported as transgender, genderqueer or nonconforming, questioning, or not listed (TGQN in the report) reported notably less confidence. Students also reported that they were aware of services provided by counseling services (81.1 percent) and the Sexual Assault Response Line (59.5 percent), and 70.1 percent said they were somewhat to extremely knowledgeable about where to get help for a student or friend who needs it.

Students were less confident in campus officials. Less than half (44.6 percent) said it was very or extremely likely that the individual’s safety would be supported. Fewer still (25.6 percent) thought it was very or extremely likely that there would be a fair investigation, and 24.8 percent said it was very or extremely likely that officials would take action against the offender.

On the prevalence of sexual assault and sexual misconduct, in addition to the survey findings among all undergraduates that 25 percent of female and 6.8 percent of male respondents experienced unwanted sexual touching or attempted or completed penetration due to physical force or incapacitation since starting college, the data show that among seniors only, who had nearly completed their four-year program, the figures were 33 percent for women and 8 percent for men.

An estimated 60.5 percent of responding students said they did not report incidents — 47.9 percent because they did not think anything would be done about it, and 16.1 percent because they feared the report would not be kept confidential.

The survey also examined other forms of sexual misconduct, including harassment, stalking, and intimate partner violence. Overall 55.8 percent of students indicated they were victims of harassment, which included offensive remarks or jokes, inappropriate comments about bodies, and social media containing offensive remarks or images. Among undergraduate women, the figure rose to 71 percent, followed by male undergraduates and female graduate and medical students (52.1 percent and 48.2 percent respectively), and male graduate and medical students (30.6 percent). TGQN respondents reported sexual harassment in higher proportions.

At the start of the school year earlier this month, the University announced a new sexual assault policy and new procedures, including the use of professional, trained investigators, to ensure timely and fair resolution of complaints. Brown has also established a new Title IX Office as a central place for education and training and as the administrative unit that will hear and resolve all complaints of sexual violence, harassment, or other violations of the new policy.

“I want to assure members of this community that every sexual assault at Brown is treated as it should be: an egregious violation of the values of our community,” Paxson said. “But the data show that we as a community have significant work to do to build trust among each other for a shared commitment to maintaining a campus that is safe and inclusive.”

Next steps for the survey data

The University expects to repeat the survey at least every four years, allowing the campus community to track progress over time in many different areas, officials said. The campus climate report establishes a clear baseline for assessment.

“Having accurate, clear, and carefully gathered statistics about sexual assault, sexual misconduct, and the campus climate is essential both for developing effective strategies and evaluating the University’s progress,” said Amanda Walsh, Brown’s Title IX officer, who began her work in May. “The campus climate report shows us that we have important work ahead of us, but that work is well underway and Brown is determined to see it through.”

Brown already has implemented several recommendations that address some of the areas of concern reflected in the climate survey data, officials said. Brown hired Walsh as Title IX officer and established its Title IX office to strengthen policies and initiatives around Title IX, the federal law governing campuses with relation to gender issues. This includes new centralized oversight of policies, training, education, and processes for complaints against students, as well as gathering and reporting information to the campus community.

The University also continues to implement other recommendations of its Sexual Assault Task Force. A new comprehensive policy on sexual assault and harassment approved before the start of the academic year brings clarity on issues of misconduct for all Brown students, faculty and staff. A new complaint process is a direct response to student concerns about Brown’s former investigation and hearing process, and a new Title IX Oversight and Advisory Board will meet twice a year to review programs, progress, and statistics about sexual violence.

In addition, the University this summer rolled out a new sexual assault training module for incoming first-year students, with training for faculty and staff expected to begin next month.

“We are fortunate that our student community is one that fosters a sense of support among one another, but we recognize that addressing the issues of trust around sexual assault will take time,” Walsh said. “Through the creation of the Title IX Office, the development of a new policy and complaint process, and education and training, we aim to build trust and a campus climate that is safe and inclusive for all who live and work at Brown.”

About the survey conducted for Brown

Westat gathered data from Brown undergraduate, graduate and medical students via an online survey, beginning on April 2 and closing three weeks later on April 23, 2015. The survey instrument, which Brown helped develop beginning in November 2014, was tested, revised, and piloted at four of the 27 participating institutions to ensure that the survey would be:

  • Comprehensive. Brown identified 8,638 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. More than a third of the student body (36.3 percent) responded to the survey, undergraduates at a slightly higher rate, and women higher than men (41.6 percent and 30.8 percent respectively).
  • Inclusive. Students were asked to self-report on age, affiliation (undergraduate, graduate, professional), year in school, race and ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, relationship status, and registered disability.
  • Frank. From the survey: “Some of the language used in this survey is explicit and some people may find it uncomfortable, but it is important that we ask the questions in this way so that you are clear what we mean.” Information on sources of help and support was included throughout the survey for those who needed it.
  • Confidential. Survey responses were severed from identifiable information (name, email, IP address). The National Institutes of Health issued a certificate of confidentiality, which protects investigators from being forced to disclose a participant’s identity even under subpoena.
  • Voluntary. Incentives were offered to some participants, partly as part of a methodology to counter self-selection bias — either a $5 gift card or entry in a drawing to win $500 — but students were not required to complete the survey.

The University has created a Web page bringing together the climate survey report and related information and resources about Brown’s response to sexual assault: brown.edu/go/climatesurvey

Note to Editors:

Editors: Brown University has a fiber link television studio available for domestic and international live and taped interviews, and maintains an ISDN line for radio interviews. For more information, call (401) 863-2476.

  Contact: Mark Nickel   401-863-1638


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