Sexual Assault Awareness: National Assault Survey

shutterstock_194218934

The past year has generated a seemingly constant stream of headlines about sexual assault and rape on college and university campuses. These stories expose the dangers faced by mostly young women and the deep-rooted problems with the way our societal institutions respond to sexual assault — from victim blaming to cover-ups.

This widespread problem calls for a widespread solution, and with this in mind, the Association of American Universities (AAU) announced an initiative to conduct a large-scale collegiate sexual assault climate survey. In January, AAU stated that 27 of its public and private university members (and one nonmember: Dartmouth) would be participating in the national survey. The scope of the survey, which was conducted in April, is impressive. More than 800,000 students ranging from undergraduates to professionals were expected to participate, making it one of the largest-ever sexual assault surveys.

The president of AAU, Hunter Rawlings, said he wants this survey to shed light on the complex problem of sexual assault on college campuses and throughout the nation. The AAU will publish the aggregate results of the survey, and the organization is encouraging individual universities to make their results available to the public.

One of the key contributors to the survey’s design, Yale Deputy Provost Stephanie Spangler, said she wants it to serve as a baseline of data regarding campus sexual assault. She told Yale News that the survey will act as “an important tool in helping us shape where we focus our energies, resources and attention to make our campus a safer place.”

The University of Florida at Gainesville is also participating in the AAU survey. Dean of Students Jen Day Shaw told The Gainesville Sun that she is optimistic that there will be a high participation rate. She said she hopes the survey will add to the university’s existing efforts to combat campus sexual assault.

Across the country at the University of Oregon, a standard is being set for how to address sexual assault on campus. Oregon is participating in the survey, but is also creating widespread initiatives to prevent assault and rape, empower victims to report abuse, ensure accountability and bolster the quality of investigations into accusations of sexual assault. During the last 18 months, Oregon created women’s self-defense classes that can be taken for college credit, changed the Student Conduct Code, hired two Office of Affirmative Action sexual assault investigators and created a 24/7 confidential hot line for victims. Oregon also announced the creation of a new vice president position dedicated solely to focusing on this issue.

In AAU’s formal announcement Rawlings outlined the primary goal of the survey.

“Our first priority … is to ensure that students not only are safe but feel safe. Universities will be using their data to inform their own policies and practices regarding sexual assault,” Rawlings said. “We also hope the survey will help policymakers gain a better understanding of the problem, and that it will make a significant contribution to the growing body of research on sexual assault.”

Sexual assault is a serious issue and one that colleges and universities can better address with their prevention efforts and response policies. The AAU’s survey has the potential to change the landscape of how colleges inform, engage and protect their students.