Thirty-one percent of female undergraduates surveyed reported experiencing nonconsensual sexual contact while at Georgetown in the university’s first Sexual Assault and Misconduct Climate Survey; this three in 10 number is higher than the average for more than two dozen peer institutions, which falls at around 23 percent.
The survey also revealed that 14.2 percent of female undergraduates have experienced nonconsensual penetration in their time at Georgetown. Approximately half of penetration incidents – reported by 7.2 percent of respondents – involved the victim being incapacitated due to alcohol or drugs.
In his message accompanying the results, Georgetown University President John J. DeGioia said the university must address sexual assault differently in light of the survey’s results.
“Some of the most concerning findings regarding sexual misconduct tell us that, even with the strong foundation we have built, we must approach this work in new and different ways, with an ever deeper commitment to the well-being of our community,” DeGioia wrote.
A total of 7,926 students – 51 percent – participated in the survey, which ran from Jan. 14 to Feb. 15. The survey, which is based on the Association of American Universities Sexual Assault and Misconduct Climate Survey, has an average 19 percent participation rate among 27 participating schools.
Twenty-three percent of female undergraduate students participating in the AAU survey reported experiencing nonconsensual sexual contact since they came to college, and Georgetown’s results fall in the upper quadrant of these results among Yale University and Harvard University.
At Yale, 28.1 percent of female undergraduate students reported experiencing nonconsensual sexual contact, while at Harvard, 31.2 percent of undergraduate students reported experiencing nonconsensual sexual contact. At the University of Virginia, 23.8 percent of female undergraduate students said they experienced nonconsensual sexual contact.
Vice President for Student Affairs Todd Olson said the statistics confirm the need for the university to continue its work in addressing sexual assault at Georgetown.
“I’d say that what they underline for us is that this is a serious issue on our campus and that while we’ve put a lot of work into responding to and educating about and preventing sexual misconduct, it’s clear that we still have work to do, and we’re committed to doing that work,” Olson said.
Health Education Services Associate Director Jen Schweer said reports of nonconsensual sexual contact will most likely rise as awareness of sexual assault grows on campus.
“We know that these numbers will likely go up before they go down. Because it’s about educating, helping people identify what happened to them and then addressing the issue,” Schweer said.
According to Olson, it is important the university does not shy away from raising awareness of sexual assault in an effort to reduce reports of sexual misconduct.
“We know that means in many cases that more awareness means higher numbers. But at the same time our ultimate goal is to do away with sexual assault and sexual misconduct on our campus,” Olson said.
Minimal Bystander Awareness
The survey also showed that 77.1 percent of respondents reported they did nothing to intervene when they witnessed a drunk person heading for a sexual encounter, while 24.1 percent of respondents who witnessed this situation indicated they did not know what to do.
DeGioia said these statistics show students have to better support their peers.
“The survey data indicate that many students do not feel comfortable intervening when they witness troubling situations, and although this finding is consistent with national trends, we must do better as a community to care for one another,” DeGioia wrote.
The survey also indicated a lack of awareness among students about resources available to survivors of sexual assault. Twenty-four percent of students reported being “very” or “extremely” knowledgeable about where to find help for survivors of sexual assault, while 18.9 percent of students reported being “very” or “extremely” knowledgeable about where to report a case of sexual assault or misconduct.
Olson said resource and reporting awareness is an area the university can improve upon. The university currently makes reporting and resource information available on its website and around campus – including in the Stall Seat Journal in all university bathrooms – and recently released a new GOCard including contact information for resources available to survivors of sexual assault.
“I think that one of the places where we are concerned and see the need for more education, more engagement is we want students to be more willing to and fully familiar with reporting options and seeking resources whether it’s confidential resources; Title IX coordinators at our offices on campus,” Olson said.
First year female undergraduates are twice as likely to be survivors of nonconsensual sexual contact when compared to senior female undergraduates, according to the survey. Twenty-one percent of surveyed first year female undergraduates experienced nonconsensual sexual contact this year, while 10.4 percent of senior female undergraduates experienced nonconsensual sexual contact this year.
This data is part of a larger national trend, according to Olson.
“It is not that surprising to us because we know there is national data,” Olson said. “Our experience tells us there are particular risks of sexual assault and misconduct in the first semester, sometimes the first six or seven weeks of the college experience, particularly for first year women students.”
Around 47 percent of undergraduate students reported experiencing sexual harassment – defined as behavior that interferes with academics or creates a hostile academic, work or social environment, including sexual remarks or sending offensive photos – while at Georgetown. Among female undergraduate students, 75.2 percent of students have experienced sexual harassment – approximately 3,141 students.
Around 34 percent of undergraduate students – 19 students – identifying as “Other Gender” on the survey reported nonconsensual sexual contact since arriving at Georgetown, while 85.7 percent said they experienced sexual harassment.
The statistics for male undergraduate students are significantly lower; 324 male undergraduate students – 10.8 percent – have experienced nonconsensual sexual contact since arriving at Georgetown, while 123 male undergraduate students have experienced nonconsensual penetration while in college. This data is higher than the national average: 5.4 percent of surveyed male undergraduates have experienced nonconsensual sexual contact since starting college, according to the AAU.
Around 61 percent of male undergraduate students reported experiencing sexual harassment.
The survey has spurred the university to revise existing programs, as well as develop new ones, to help support a culture change on campus, according to Schweer.
The university currently has programs including Take Back the Night, Sexual Assault Peer Educators, I Am Ready and Are You Ready to educate around sexual assault and misconduct.
The university also agreed to introduce a new educational program for bystander intervention ready for the 2016-2017 year, as part of the university’s Sept. Memorandum of Understanding with the Georgetown University Student Association on the university’s policies towards sexual assault.
Olson said that while the university has developed improved resources for transgender, genderqueer and nonconforming students, the university still has work to do to better support them.
“We need to make sure we’re building a respectful campus environment for all our students,” Olson said.
Title IX Coordinator Laura Cutway said there are a number of underrepresented demographics that the university must work to better support. Cutway became Title IX Coordinator in Jan. 2016, as part of the university’s agreement to hire a full-time Title IX Coordinator as part of the Sept. MOU.
“The rate of victimization for our students who identify as [transgender, genderqueer or non-conforming, questioning or not listed], our female undergraduate students with disabilities and our non-heterosexual undergraduate male and female students is equally too high and calls for targeted action,” Cutway wrote in an email to The Hoya.
According to the survey, 61.9 percent of students said it was “very” likely or “extremely” likely the university would take reports of sexual assault seriously, while 47.1 percent of students said they believe it is “very” likely or “extremely” likely a fair investigation would be conducted. Around 38 percent of students think it is “very” likely or “extremely” likely the university will take action against the offender.
Olson said he believes this disparity is the result of an overall lack of awareness about the university’s disciplinary process.
The university will form a Sexual Assault and Misconduct Climate Task Force to help improve the campus climate toward sexual assault, according to DeGioia. The task force will be co-chaired by Vice President for Institutional Diversity and Equity Rosemary Kilkenny, J.D. (LAW ’87), Vice President for Student Affairs Todd Olson and GUSA Deputy Chief of Staff Olivia Hinerfeld (SFS ’17).
The task force will include a number of subcommittees, including committees focusing on issues relating to underrepresented populations, support and resources and bystander education, headed by a steering committee.
The task force will submit a series of recommendations to DeGioia and university administrators in the spring, according to Olson.
The task force, which will meet throughout the fall and into the spring, will meet instead of the Sexual Assault Working Group during this period.
The university will also form focus groups of students in the fall to help inform the university’s work, according to DeGioia.
Georgetown University Student Association Safety and Sexual Assault Policy Team Chair Maddy Moore (SFS ’17) said GUSA will look to work with the task force in addressing sexual assault.
“I think the first two – bystander education and resources – are really going to be a core component of the task force, so I’m sure GUSA will work alongside that, and then through my policy team, we’ll continue to push for probably increasing resources, increasing access to these resources,” Moore said. “Because it’s not enough to just have them, you actually need to be able to afford them and utilize them.”
The GUSA Federal Relations Office launched a petition June 18 in an effort to raise support for the Campus Accountability and Safety Act, a bill in Congress that seeks to reduce sexual assault on college campuses, including reforming investigative processes and mandating surveys of students on sexual assault and misconduct.
Hinerfeld said the entire university must work to address sexual assault.
“We need to launch a campus-wide conversation about what it looks like to speak up in a questionable scenario and recognize the important impact this can have on someone’s life. We have to better highlight resources to ensure that all survivors are receiving the support they deserve,” Hinerfeld wrote in an email to The Hoya. “I am confident that through the new task force, we will identify necessary actionables and together as a community, we will end campus sexual assault.”
This article has been updated. A link to the survey results can be found here.