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Investigative News: Research on sexual assault, misconduct on campus reflect national trends

Kathryn Nicolai, Investigative News Editor

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The prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses has received augmented national attention in the last decade, resulting in increased awareness as well as federal and state regulation. The matter of sexual assault continues to be a current and pressing concern for higher education, especially within the party and drinking cultures that exist on college campuses.

A 2015 Association of American Universities (AAU) Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct reported that 23.1 percent of female undergraduate students experienced “nonconsensual sexual contact involving physical force or incapacitation” since enrolling in college, including 10.8 percent who experienced penetration.

Associate Professor of Psychology Bill Flack leads the University’s Sexual Assault Research Team, compiled of University students, in administering and analyzing an annual University sexual assault survey. Flack presented the results of the 2016-2017 survey to a small crowd in the ELC Forum on April 17. Before this survey became annual in 2007, surveys were distributed in the 2001-02 and 2004-05 academic years at the University.

At the beginning of the presentation, Flack discussed overarching issues of sexual assault. A timeline of major sexual assault cases and landmarks in the United States and Canada in addition to the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape of Billy Bush and President Donald Trump participating in “locker room talk.” Flack juxtaposed this video with the president’s recent designation of April as National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month.

Flack drew random names from half of the student population. The response rate of this group was 40-45 percent, with 736 respondents starting and 659 completing the survey. Women comprised 66 percent of the sample and men made up 34 percent.

“Although there was some under- and over-sampling of some demographics, the sample as a whole was roughly comparable to the population,” Flack said.

According to the survey results, the overall victimization rate for women was about 33 percent, and for men about 9 percent. Both women and men in the Greek system were about twice as likely to report victimization than independent students. Also, for both women and men “hooking up” was a significant predictor of victimization; drug usage was another predictor, but only for women. The instances of victimization surveyed “include a range of assault from non-consensual groping to rape,” Flack said.

Flack defines “hooking up” as a “two-person encounter ranging from kissing to sexual intercourse.”

Every survey dating back to 2001-2002 has indicated that hooking up is “a significant risk factor for sexual assault victimization,” Flack said.

There were lower rates of sexual assault among men and women from 2015-16 to 2016-17. While Flack was pleased with this trend, he was also unsure of whether these results were truly reflective of a decreasing trend in sexual assaults on campus. He explained that these results may be attributed to the omission of interpersonal violence questions in the 2016-17 survey.

“I certainly hope that the reductions we saw in victimization rates this year will be maintained and that we will see further reductions in the future. I’m skeptical, however, that significant change will happen without changes that would equalize power within the social intimacy culture among students,” Flack said.

Limitations addressed by Flack included insufficient data on LGBTQ+ respondents, as well as limited assessment of types of victimization, variant times, and locations off-campus.

“I think that the study is really eye-opening and honestly, most of results don’t surprise me,” Callie Fried ’20 said, who attended the presentation.

“Bucknell, like many college campuses, has a problem with sexual assault on its campus,” Hallie King ’17, a member of the University’s Sexual Assault Research Team, said. King believes that the University’s administration “does not want to completely admit it.”

The University conducts its own research on campus climate and social situations. The MyVoice Student Experience Survey commenced for the first time this fall on “out-of-classroom experiences” in areas of satisfaction, community, well-being, safety and security, dining and housing, and study. Survey participants constituted 60 percent of the University’s student body, or 2,101 students. Fifty-eight percent of survey respondents were female, 42 percent were male, and 1.4 percent identified as transgender and other gender non-conforming (trans/OGNC).

Out of the 2,101 survey respondents, 180 students indicated they experienced sexual assault, approximately 8.6 percent. Of the 180 students, 154 identified as women, 18 identified as male and six identified as trans/OGNC, as well as two survey respondents who did not disclose their gender identities.

“One in 7.5 women who responded to the survey indicated they had experienced sexual assault at Bucknell […] the MyVoice survey was anonymous and that the demographics closely mirrored those of campus,” University Title IX Coordinator Kate Grimes said. Grimes said that all instances of sexual assault are unacceptable, but she is not surprised by the data results.

Flack noted that the difference in data results was because, “asking about ‘sexual assault’ results in about one-third the rate that asking with behaviorally explicit language does.” He also noted that this phenomenon “is pretty close to how the MyVoice rate stacks up against the rate in our research survey.”

The University’s Sex Discrimination, Sexual Misconduct, Relationship Violence and Stalking Policy & Procedures for Resolving Complaints Against Students 2016-17 defines sexual assault as “having or attempting to have sexual intercourse or oral sex (cunnilingus or fellatio) without Consent. Sexual intercourse is defined as anal or vaginal penetration by a penis, tongue, finger or inanimate object.”

A divergence in definitions regarding sexual assault and sexual misconducts exists, muddying the waters and creating discrepancies regarding statistics. Under the University’s policy, sexual misconduct encompasses sexual assault, non-consensual fondling, and sexual exploitation. Flack categorizes non-consensual fondling under the term “victimization of sexual assault” in his research results.

“As the issue of sexual assault continues to afflict college campuses across the country, we must do all that we can to combat it, including by raising awareness through the continued education of our community members and by holding those who engage in such conduct accountable,” Grimes said.

Work in this area is “far from finished,” according to Grimes, but she believes that important steps have been taken in order to combat sexual assault.

Numerous University efforts have been taken to decrease rates of sexual assault, including the expansion of the SpeakUP Bucknell program, a peer education group, as well as faculty and staff online training.

According to Grimes, in 2012 the University possessed 12 SpeakUP peer educators who received 18 hours of training. Currently, the University has 53 SpeakUP peer educators who receive 40 hours of training.

A new three-step initiative aimed at educating incoming students on sexual misconduct will start with the Class of 2021, according to Grimes. Incoming students will now complete an online course and attend a two-hour performance by the organization, Speak About It, in addition to SpeakUP presentations currently in place.

Moreover, SpeakUP participates in a Fraternity & Sorority Ally Program, a seven-week program that meets once a week. An athlete ally training is currently being developed, according to Grimes.

“Sexual assault education and prevention is a topic BSG is very passionate about and hopes to get more involved with in the coming year,” Bucknell Student Government (BSG) President Amanda Battle ’18 said. “It is our hope to get all students involved in the ally program because currently there are programs in place for athletes and Greek members to have an ally, but that does not cover every student on our campus—all who deserve access to this education and resource. We hope by including the program in our LOL series this fall, which provides a financial incentive for all clubs to participate, we can do more to prevent sexual assault on our campus, to empower survivors, and to stop normalizing rape culture,” Battle said.

One suggestion Flack made at his presentation was to have “the same number of sorority houses as fraternity houses, and having the rules for socializing be the same in both.”

However, the University “has long-standing agreements with certain national organizations and alumni corporations to provide fraternity housing,” Grimes said. About 10 years ago, the University held a conversation with sororities about housing on campus.

“At that time, there was not interest in exploring what options might be available, perhaps due in part to the insurance costs and potential liability associated with leasing or owning student housing,” Grimes said.

“I think our school does have some truly amazing programs in place to battle the cause,” King said. However, she believes, “our campus, both students and faculty, need to be more open to discussing the subject and taking steps to stop it.”

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The weekly student newspaper of Bucknell University
Investigative News: Research on sexual assault, misconduct on campus reflect national trends