College releases results of 2017 sexual misconduct survey

by Saba Nejad | 2/26/18 2:05am

In January 2018, the College released the results of its sexual misconduct survey fielded in spring 2017. The results come two years after the Association of American Universities administered a sexual misconduct and sexual assault survey in 2015.

About 34 percent of female undergraduates reported experiencing nonconsensual penetration or physical touching involving physical force or incapacitation since entering college, up from 28 percent in 2015. About 7 percent of men reported, the same, compared to about 4.5 percent in 2015.

The report found that female undergraduates were about four times more likely than male undergraduates to experience nonconsensual penetration and about five times more likely to experience forced touching. In addition to that, bisexual and questioning female undergraduates were twice as likely as heterosexual female undergraduates to experience forcible penetration, though the risk for forced touching is the same as that for heterosexual female undergraduates.

Alicia Betsinger, associate provost for institutional research, said it is difficult to gather reliable valuable data that can then be shared and used to make decisions.

“It’s always been my goal to have a survey that’s actionable,” she added.

From May 4, 2017 to May 25, 2017, 47 percent of Dartmouth students — both undergraduate and graduate — took the survey, compared to only 42 percent in the 2015 survey by the AAU. In 2017, 3,147 Dartmouth students took the survey, of whom 2,039 were undergraduates. Fifty-five percent of respondents identified as female, 43 percent were male and 1 percent were genderqueer or gender non-conforming. The 2017 survey was based on the 2015 AAU survey with some modifications.

Students who completed the latest survey received $10 in compensation, as opposed to $5 in 2015. That, according to Betsinger was a “lesson learned.”

“We struggled in 2015 and we struggled again in 2017 about incentives for a survey of this type,” she said. “It doesn’t always feel right, but it also does improve response rates and that’s what you want, especially on a topic of this importance.”

Some institutions offered a larger incentive for this kind of survey, Betsinger said, adding that Dartmouth fell in the middle.

A major takeaway from the results were that there was a knowledge gap on what resources are available to survivors, Betsinger said. The survey revealed that only 24 percent of men, 26 percent of women and 27 percent of transgender, genderqueer, gender non-conforming and questioning undergraduates were “very” or “extremely” aware of the services provided by the Title IX coordinator for sexual misconduct. On the other hand, 54 percent of women, 62 percent of men and 43 percent of TGQN undergraduates were “very” or “extremely” aware of the health services for sexual misconduct at Dick’s House; 49 percent of women, 50 percent of men and 37 percent of TGQN undergraduates were “very” or “extremely” aware of counseling services; and 58 percent of women, 69 percent of men and 27 percent of TGQN undergraduates were “very” or “extremely” aware of Safety and Security resources for sexual misconduct.

Compared to their male counterparts, female and/or transgender, gender queer, gender non-conforming and questioning undergraduates had less favorable views on how the College might handle a reported incident.

The results also detailed different reasons survivors of sexual assault do not report to campus officials or departments. Of female undergraduates who experienced unwanted penetration, 76 percent did not report the incident to any of the 14 resources listed on the survey, which includes Student Accessibility Services, the Office of Pluralism and Leadership and undergraduate advisors. According to the survey, nearly 67 percent indicated that they did not want to get someone else into trouble or did not think the incident was serious enough, nearly 41 percent indicated that they had other things such as work and school to focus on and nearly 31 percent indicated they felt embarrassed, ashamed. wanted to forget about the incident or that reporting would be too emotionally difficult.

Senior associate dean of student affairs Liz Agosto ’01 said that issues with reporting are part of a larger national issue. Students must deal with feelings of shame, guilt, reluctance to come forward or fears of being ignored, she said.

Agosto said from an institutional perspective, the College hopes to increase reporting by building trust in the system, ensuring that students are aware of resources available to them and making that staff and faculty are knowledgeable about them as well.

“The prevalence rates on the survey are really distressing, but they also show that at any given point in time, we’re all likely to be in a space with someone’s who’s experienced harm,” said Agosto.

This kind of shared experience gives members of the community the ability to create a campus culture where people feel heard, believed and supported, rather than one that encourages a continued lack of reporting, she said. Therefore, the College’s role in continuing to build trust and raise awareness about the resources comes in tandem with a continued effort on students’ side in terms of how they are choosing to engage with one another and talk about issues surrounding sexual misconduct and campus resources.

“The Title IX office has been working to educate and share information about what is a private or confidential resource, how do you access those resources, when you access those resources what is expected to happen,” Agosto said.

Confidential resources can include medical professionals, including Dick’s House health services providers and counselors; WISE campus advocates, who can connect students to the gender-based violence-prevention group WISE; and ordained clergy at the William Jewett Tucker Center. They may not share information unless there is imminent danger or on a subject that involves mandatory reporting laws. However, private resources are required to disclose any knowledge of sexual assault, sexual misconduct or gender-based misconduct with Title IX coordinator Allison O’Connell, Agosto said.

O’Connell said that last year, there were trainings on the sexual misconduct resources available on campus offered to faculty throughout the year, but they were poorly attended. This year, a new program, developed to increase attendance, has been launched in partnership with organizations such as WISE. The Dartmouth Center for the Advancement of Learning will also run a faculty program for sexual assault awareness week in April, she said.

“We know that when we share information about resources to the community, we allow more people in the community to have the ability to support survivors,” O’Connell said.

On Jan. 29, the College announced the creation of a Presidential Steering Committee on Sexual Misconduct, which will identify areas in the College’s sexual misconduct policies and procedures that could be revised or improved. The committee’s members were announced on Feb. 14. The creation of the committee follows the announcement last October that three faculty members of the psychological and brain sciences department were under investigation for sexual misconduct, as well as a broader cultural push to call out and combat sexual misconduct.

On Feb. 21, Dean of the College Rebecca Biron held a question and answer session on the survey with Betsinger, Agosto, associate director of the Student Wellness Center Amanda Childress, student assembly president Ian Sullivan ’18 and Palaeopitus Senior Society moderator Clare Mathias ’18.

Agosto said during the event that the length of the official reporting process varies but usually takes 60 days. She also emphasized the option of informal reporting, which is a report without a formal investigation or any course of action. She added that there are “ongoing conversations” on what to do with informal reports. Students can also receive academic support even if they are not going through formal processes, she said.

Amanda Zhou contributed reporting.