GW Releases Results of Unwanted Sexual Behavior Climate Survey

Responses will help focus programming options.

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September 19, 2016

The George Washington University released the results of its second unwanted sexual behavior climate survey, indicating that an increasing number of students know how to contact their Title IX office and that knowledge about policies that prohibit unwanted sexual behaviors remains high.

But administrators say there is significant room for improvement.

“Title IX compliance requires constant self-critical analysis and a commitment to ongoing improvement. These surveys help us see where we are and how to improve our programs and services,” said Caroline Laguerre-Brown, vice provost for diversity, equity and community engagement.

The survey was offered online to a random sample of 3,000 undergraduate and graduate students during the 2015-16 academic year. It was administered by the Office of Survey Research and Analysis and had a 23 percent response rate, resulting in 715 respondents, 55 percent of whom were undergraduate students.

The survey is part of GW’s ongoing effort to learn about and address student attitudes regarding campus atmosphere, safety and policies. (Many educational institutions share that goal: Congress is currently considering the Campus Safety and Accountability Act, which will mandate campus climate surveys at federally funded educational institutions.)

Administrators agree it is too early to see dramatic changes from the 2014 climate survey, but say there are indications of increased awareness. The 2015 survey was the first to include a class that had participated in GW’s mandatory sexual and relationship violence prevention training, and results reflected that participation.

Of undergraduate respondents, 38 percent—including 88 percent of first-year undergraduate students—said they had participated in Title IX training at GW.

Title IX Coordinator Rory Muhammad said the actual percentage of trained first-year undergraduates might be even higher, since the survey was administered before all trainings had been completed.

In the 2014 survey, 31 percent of all undergraduates said they had participated in such training.

“GW has made significant progress on unwanted sexual behavior training for incoming students, and we’re continuing to refine that program,” Mr. Muhammad said.

Over the summer, incoming first-year undergraduate students were required to complete “Think About It,” a self-guided online training module from Campus Clarity 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.

Upon completion of “Think About It,” students were 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.

“Training and raising awareness are ongoing processes,” Mr. Muhammad said. “The best way to get this information to sink in is to continue delivering it in multiple venues over a period of time.”

Personal Experiences

In total, 13 percent of respondents said they had experienced what they would consider sexual harassment, sexual violence, dating/domestic violence or stalking while enrolled at GW.

Seventy-seven percent of those said the unwanted behavior took the form of comments, jokes or gestures, while 57 percent said they had experienced unwanted touching. Twenty-four percent said they had been forced into a sexual act.

Carrie Ross, assistant director for sexual assault prevention and response, said all gradations of unwanted sexual behavior need to be addressed to maintain a safe and supportive community.

 “The continuum of sexual misconduct includes much more than sexual assault or physical violence. Of course, sexual assault is particularly egregious, but offensive sexual jokes, catcalling, and other similar behaviors can also pose significant obstacles to people being able to feel safe and valued in our community,” she said.

“When we treat these kinds of sexual harassment as though they are normal or don't point them out as being unacceptable, we can make people feel that harassment and violence are accepted by their peers. This can be damaging and dangerous for survivors, for perpetrators and for the community as a whole. That’s not the community we want at GW—and it’s not representative of the community we have, where people are very active in the fight against sexual violence."

The total percentage of respondents who experienced unwanted sexual behavior varied among subgroups. Twenty-four percent of LGBTQAI respondents said they had experienced such behavior, compared to just 12 percent of respondents who identified as heterosexual.

“Sexual violence affects people of every demographic, and every community has unique needs when it comes to preventing violence and supporting survivors,” Ms. Ross said. “That’s exactly why we have tailored our first-year student training to include workshop options with more explicit focus on social identity and other related factors. For example, our workshop offerings this year include options specifically for men to engage with other men about preventing sexual violence, for international students, and for LGBTQAI people and allies.”

Vulnerable Moments

This year’s survey introduced several new questions, including asking respondents who said they had experienced unwanted sexual behavior when the incident had taken place.

Thirty-nine percent of those who had experienced one or more incidences of unwanted sexual behavior said they suffered it as a first semester freshman, while 34 percent said an incident occurred second semester of freshman year. Sixty percent said they had experienced it in another academic year.

Most respondents—about 70 percent—said they felt “very safe” on campus during the morning and afternoon, but only 16 percent felt “very safe” at night, compared to 28 percent who said they felt “safe” at night, 18 percent who felt “not very safe,” and a plurality of 37 percent who felt “somewhat safe.”

Perpetrators were as likely to be from outside the university as part of it. Sixty-eight percent of respondents said incidents had involved an individual not affiliated with GW, while 63 percent said they involved a current or former GW student.

Reporting

Of those who reported unwanted sexual behavior, 63 percent said they reached out to the Title IX office.

But the vast majority of respondents who experienced unwanted sexual behavior—91 percent—said they did not report it to any authority.

Sexual assault is notoriously underreported. Administrators said increasing awareness of the Title IX office is crucial so that students, faculty and staff know the resources available to prevent sexual harassment and violence and to support survivors.

While 79 percent of respondents said they knew GW had sexual harassment policies, 32 percent said they knew how to contact the Title IX office—an increase from 20 percent in the 2014 survey.

“We will continue to work on raising the profile of the office,” said Mr. Muhammad. “The mandatory Title IX trainings that first-year students are doing now are part of that effort, and so are these climate surveys. We’re also distributing brochures and handouts to student and staff offices and handing them out at student information sessions and trainings.” 

The Committee for Sexual Assault, Prevention and Response (CSAPR) and the university’s Division of External Relations have also worked on ensuring that GW search engine inquiries for words related to sexual harassment lead directly to the Title IX and Haven websites.

Although few incidents are reported, respondents indicated that they would not remain silent if they or someone they knew experienced unwanted sexual behavior. Sixty-five percent said they would discuss it, while 9 percent said they would not and 26 percent said they did not know. Of those who said they would, 81 percent said they would talk to friends. Twenty-eight percent said they would contact the Title IX office.

Sexual assault prevention resources, including bystander intervention training, trauma services and events and programs that raise awareness of methods to curb sexual violence, already are available throughout campus. Haven provides a central location for information on harassment and abuse, steps to take for witnesses or victims and how to report incidents confidentially. Members of the GW community also can request meetings and presentations tailored to specific departments or groups.

Mental Health Services features a trauma services coordinator to help support students who are survivors of sexual assault. The sexual assault response crisis team (SARC) responds 24/7 to help victims of sexual assault.

2015 Unwanted Sexual Behavior Climate Survey results are here.

GW’s official Sexual Harassment and Sexual Violence Policy is here.

Student Life, Ruth Steinhardt