The George Washington University released the results of its third unwanted sexual behavior climate survey, indicating that a significant majority of students know how to contact the Title IX office and that knowledge about policies that prohibit unwanted sexual behaviors remains high.
But administrators say there remains room for improvement.
“Sexual misconduct prevention and response requires laser-like focus on analysis and a commitment to ongoing improvement,” said Caroline Laguerre-Brown, vice provost for diversity, equity and community engagement. “ Surveys are an important tool for taking the pulse of our community and obtaining insight about designing and implementing services going forward.”
The survey is part of GW’s ongoing effort to learn about and address student attitudes regarding campus atmosphere, safety and policies.
Campus stakeholders, including the Student Association and GW Students Against Sexual Assault (SASA), requested that every GW student—rather than a randomly generated selection—have an opportunity to participate in the 2018 survey. As a result, the Office of Survey Research and Analysis created a survey open to the entire student population .
The result was an 11 percent response rate, or 3,054 survey respondents. The sample was fairly representative of the GW student population in terms of race, with 50 percent of respondents identifying as white. About 53 percent of students who answered the survey were undergraduates, 66 percent were women and 80 percent identified as heterosexual.
The 2018 survey also was redesigned for a more granular picture of survey respondents’ experiences, specifically by eliminating a yes-or-no screening question that asked “Have you personally experienced what you would consider sexual harassment, sexual violence, dating or domestic violence, or stalking while enrolled at GW?”
In previous versions of the survey, only survey respondents who answered “yes” to this general question would be asked about specific types of incidents. In the 2018 survey, however, all survey respondents were asked about each type of incident. For this reason, the results from the 2018 questionnaire are not directly comparable to previous surveys.
“The new format allows survey respondents to see the type of incident before deciding if it happened to them or not,” said Rory Muhammad, director of the Office for Diversity, Equity and Community Engagement and Title IX coordinator. “Previously, someone might have seen ‘sexual harassment, sexual violence, dating or domestic violence or stalking’ and answered that they hadn’t experienced those things, even though they might have experienced, for example, unwanted sexual comments.
“The continuum of sexual harassment includes much more than sexual assault or physical violence. All the different forms of unwanted sexual behavior outlined in the Title IX Policy are unacceptable at GW," he said.
The survey also was administered at around the same time a comprehensive Title IX policy was established at GW, consolidating all processes related to sexual harassment, sexual assault, sexual exploitation, intimate partner violence, stalking and retaliation under the aegis of the Title IX Office.
“This 2018 survey contains important information about student experiences and will help us determine best practices moving forward,” Ms. Laguerre-Brown said. “But it’s also important that we continue to collect data that reflects the evolution of Title IX processes at GW.”
The 2018 climate survey includes several classes that participated in GW’s mandatory sexual and relationship violence prevention training, and results reflected that participation. Ninety percent of students are aware of or know how to access mental health services at GW, while 75 percent are aware of or know how to access the Title IX Office. Fifty percent of survey respondents were comfortable reporting incidents of unwanted sexual behavior to GW’s Title IX Office.
Respondents also indicted that they were comfortable reporting incidents to a peer led student organization, Students Against Sexual Assault, whose members are encouraged but not obligated to report matters to the university. .
“GW has made significant progress on unwanted sexual behavior prevention training for incoming students, and we’re continuing to refine that program,” Muhammad said. Incoming undergraduate students are required to complete a self-guided online training module that examines the interconnected issues students face on coming to college, including substance abuse, the spectrum of sexual violence, Title IX rights and responsibilities, healthy relationships and bystander intervention.
First-year students also are required to sign up for mandatory in-person prevention workshops during Welcome Week and the weeks after, during which they are able to discuss these issues with peers and facilitators.
“We’re continuing to deliver this information in multiple venues and on multiple occasions,” Mr. Muhammad said. “Raising awareness is an ongoing process.”
The most common type of incident, experienced by 30 percent of survey respondents, was “unwanted sexual comments, jokes, gestures or looks.” The second most common was being touched, grabbed or pinched in an unwanted sexual way (24 percent of respondents). Fourteen percent of survey respondents stated that they were forced to kiss someone. Nine percent of respondents stated they had been forced to do something sexual other than kissing.
Survey respondents reported that individuals not affiliated with GW committed a plurality, at 31 percent, of reported unwanted sexual incidents, while current or former GW students are reported to have perpetrated 28 percent. Of the survey respondents who indicated that they experienced unwanted sexual behavior, intimate partners made up 7 percent of the actors. The most common location for these reported experiences of unwanted sexual behavior was off-campus, where 26 percent of incidents occurred. Of on-campus locations, residence halls were the most common (15 percent) followed by campus grounds, including GW transportation services (14 percent).
Perceptions of GW
In 2018, 77 percent of students perceived that unwanted sexual behavior happens often or somewhat often on campus, but only 39 percent felt GW was effectively “creating a climate free from sexual harassment/violence, dating/domestic violence, or stalking.”
“That’s tough to see,” Ms. Laguerre-Brown said. “But we also take into account that this survey was conducted when our old Title IX processes were still in place. We went live with our new policy on July 1, 2018, and in that time, we’ve seen a sharp increase in the use of the resources the Title IX Office offers.
“I am encouraged by that,” she continued. “More people are being referred to the office. More people are using the services we offer. We believe that is a step in the right direction.”
“We hope to see a positive change in those numbers when we survey students again in 2021. Until that time, we will continue to draw on insights from our Title IX team, national best practices, and most importantly, from our students.”
About a third of students agree that the university supports students who experience unwanted sexual behavior, and 27 percent believe GW is doing enough to prevent these incidents .
After experiencing an incident of unwanted sexual behavior, 37 percent of students found effective support through academic resources. A third of students found housing adjustments effective, and 30 percent found mental health and support services effective. Sixty two percent of students perceived conduct procedures that existed under the old GW policies as the most ineffective support after experiencing unwanted sexual behavior. The conduct procedures referenced here—hearing boards--are not a feature of the current Title IX process.
Generally, survey respondents said the safest times of day on campus were in the morning and afternoon. About 17 percent of survey respondents thought the campus was not very safe and 36 percent of those surveyed reported they thought the campus was only somewhat safe at night.
Of the 9 percent of students who indicated they were “forced to do something sexual other than kissing (e.g., oral, vaginal, or anal penetration)” while enrolled at GW, 84 percent noted they had experienced more than one instance of generally unwanted sexual behavior during their time at GW. Eighty-eight percent of these students felt that GW should do more to raise awareness about sexual harassment issues.
Survey respondents disclosed to a variety of individuals and offices in addition to pursuing direct action following the incident or incidents. Students were most likely to disclose to a friend or family member, while 13 percent of students disclosed to the Title IX Office, 13 percent to the Colonial Health Center and 7 percent to GW Students Against Sexual Assault. Eighteen percent of students did not disclose the incident to anyone. The most common response was to seek mental health services, followed by receiving information about reporting options and support resources.
New Federal Title IX Rule Expected
Universities across the country anticipate that the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) may publish new Title IX regulations before the end of 2019. The department issued proposed regulations in November 2018, generating over 100,000 public comments.
Notably, the proposed regulations require institutions to utilize live hearings with the right to cross-examination, redefine the parameters on how universities must respond to allegations of sexual harassment and much more. The University will assess the need for changes to our current policy when the final regulations are published.