Reports show conflicting statistics for sexual assault on campus

Tuesday, October 15, 2019 - 11:09pm

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Design by Vivian Harber

Two University of Michigan reports reveal diverging trends in sexual assault and misconduct on campus, according to numbers from a campus climate survey released Tuesday and the Division of Public Safety and Security report from two weeks ago.

The University was one of 33 schools across the country to participate in the Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Misconduct, which was sponsored by the Association of American Universities as a follow up to a similar survey in 2015. 

The survey highlights differences in sexual assault rates for minority populations, women, members of the LGBTQ+ community and students with disabilities. The survey found rates have decreased overall since 2015. 

According to the survey, more than one in three women at the University report nonconsensual touching or penetration on campus.

“Undergraduate women remain the most at-risk for experiencing nonconsensual touching or penetration since enrolling at U-M at 34.3 percent, down from 38.2 percent in 2015,” a press release on the findings from U-M Public Affairs says. 

The survey also said there is a statistically significant difference in rates of “nonconsensual sexual contact” between heterosexual students and members of the LGBTQ+ community.

“Non-heterosexual students (gay or lesbian, other or multiple categories) had a [nonconsensual sexual activity] prevalence rate of 19.8 percent and heterosexual students had a rate of 11.8 percent,” according to the survey. 

LSA junior Sidney Aloisi, co-coordinator of Sexual Assault and Prevention Awareness Center, discussed how important it is to recognize women are not the only victims of sexual assault. Trans and LGBTQ+ students also experience disproportionately high rates of sexual assault.

“I know, historically, a lot of people in the trans and LGBTQ+ community have a big, drastic difference,” Aloisi said. “I know that they can be very close to women, number wise. I think that’s something that’s important. I think a lot of times we say women are the only victims, those are the only people that we talk about, and that’s really not the case.”

The survey also provided findings regarding bystander intervention. According to the survey, out of 15.3 percent of students who witnessed a situation they believed could have led to sexual assault, 75.2 percent took some type of action, with 44.9 percent directly intervening. 

Aloisi explained intervening in situations involving sexual assault can be hard. She said this statistic was impressive.

“I was really happy to see that the statistics were going on an upward trend for people that were being bystanders and bystander intervention,” Aloisi said. “I think that was a really surprising statistic for me, just because it is very hard to intervene.”

The DPSS report contradicts the Campus Climate Survey

Yet according to the DPSS report, the number of reported on-campus sexual assaults at the University of Michigan has increased significantly. Forty-five rapes were reported in 2018, compared to the 18 rapes reported the year before. 

According to Heather Young, DPSS director for strategic communications, one of the reasons for the increase could be due to survivors feeling more comfortable reporting assaults to the police as a result of the Me Too movement. 

“It’s hard to say definitively, but there are a couple of things that are a national trend that I think could help contribute to that increase,” Young said. “The first thing would be the Me Too movement. And this is actually documented in a government report that has shown that survivors of sexual assault were more likely to tell the police of the incident in 2017 than in the previous year. We’re seeing that in general, police stations do have a long struggle to make sure that survivors of sexual assault report such crimes, but this report suggests the Me Too movement has helped take reporting sexual assault to law enforcement and people feel more comfortable reporting to law enforcement.”

Aloisi also believes the Me Too movement influenced the increase in reports, along with individuals in the University community sharing their stories.

“Looking around us, and seeing what the world’s been doing with sexual assault, a lot of people have been coming forward, and I think that probably has a big influence on why people are choosing to come forward,” Aloisi said. “It can seem almost like healing when you see someone else who’s experienced the same thing be brave and come out and tell their stories. It almost influences a person to want to do the same thing.”

Young also believes DPSS’s efforts to communicate resources to students could have brought about the increase in reports of on-campus rapes. 

“From our end, this is hard to measure, but we do invest in our staff and in our communications to our community about the importance of reporting,” Young said. “And we’ve worked really hard to make it more comfortable for survivors.”

Aloisi said while there is always more work to be done, she thinks the University is doing a good job.

I think that we can always do more, there is always progress to be done, but I think Michigan is doing a good job,” Aloisi said. “I think people don’t really know how difficult of a process it is to work with the court system and the legal system surrounding Title IX … This University is here for us.”

University resources

Some of these resources available to survivors at the University include a special victims unit, which specifically serves victims of interpersonal violence, such as sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence or stalking. The University’s police department has also engaged with the Start by Believing campaign, which aims to raise awareness about sexual assault and its victims.

According to Young, the Ann Arbor Police Department, Eastern Michigan University, St. Joseph’s Mercy Hospital, Michigan Medicine, University Health Services, the prosecutor’s office and the sheriff’s office have all followed DPSS’s lead and adopted the Start by Believing campaign as well. 

Another one of the ways DPSS fosters communication with students in different communities in Ann Arbor is via the work of the DPSS Student Advisory Board, a student-led group at the University that speaks with DPSS representatives to shed light on campus safety concerns and offer feedback on DPSS’s efforts to address different issues in the area.

Stephen Bonesteel, vice chair of the DPSS Student Advisory Board and LSA senior, encourages students to take advantage of the many resources available to them.

“We work with SAPAC every day, and there’s just numerous resources if people don’t want to go all the way with a formal report and investigation,” Bonesteel said. “DPSS, our officers in the Special Victims Unit … They’re here for everybody and they’re here for you … just to make sure that message is heard.”

Bonesteel emphasized the importance of these resources, noting that relying on statistical reports like the Campus Climate Survey is not enough, particularly when dealing with sensitive issues like sexual violence.

“I think there are sometimes challenges in actually reporting these events,” Bonesteel said. “So, I think in a relatively anonymous survey like what went out, there’s a number of folks who may have identified themselves in the survey that may not have identified themselves otherwise.” 

The University has faced criticism for its policies

Since implementing the University’s new temporary policy that requires cross examination, U-M has faced criticism for the Title IX policy. The 2019 Campus Climate Survey revealed 50.6 percent of students said it was likely or extremely likely the University would conduct a fair investigation in response to a report of a sexual assault or misconduct. 

While this statistic is an increase from 40.2 percent of students in 2015, Aloisi said she thinks the number would be higher if it weren’t for the University’s current Title IX policy. She also addressed the misperception the University wants to require hearings and cross examinations, noting a rise in sexual assault reports on campus. 

“I think that a lot of people are genuinely upset about the Title IX policy change and I think that a lot of people have the misconception that it was Michigan’s decision completely and that’s what we wanted, but that is a myth I am happy to debunk,” Aloisi said. “It wasn’t our decision...We didn’t really have a say in the hearing, and it’s something that we’ve tried and tried again to get the Sixth Circuit Court to reconsider, but repeatedly they will not. I’m not surprised, honestly, it’s very easy for students to lose faith when they think that Michigan wanted to have cross examinations.”

University spokeswoman Kim Broekhuizen told The Daily in an email interview that the campus climate survey is a great tool for the University to analyze and use to make campus a safer place. 

“The latest survey of U-M students regarding sexual misconduct provides new knowledge on students’ nonconsensual experiences before they arrive on campus as well as measures changes in its prevalence on the U-M campus and which groups are most at-risk,” Broekhuizen wrote. “The research is vital to further our understanding of this problem so we can design education and prevention efforts in the most effective manner possible.”

In an email to students, University President Mark Schlissel said despite the progress that has been made, the University is aiming to eradicate all sexual assault on campus.

“The number of sexual assaults and misconduct cases continues to be too high at U-M, on college campuses across the country, and throughout our society in general,” Schlissel said. “We must do everything we can as we strive to reduce the number to zero.”

Schlissel said the survey will guide the University’s next steps for future sexual assault and misconduct prevention in the community. 

“We will study these findings more closely and discuss them more fully with various campus groups in the months ahead,” Schlissel said. “And we use the survey findings to enhance our work on prevention and education.”