Surveying students about campus sexual assault

The Challenge 

Sexual assault and misconduct are growing concerns on college and university campuses across the country. Surveys have found that 1 in 5 women have been sexually assaulted during their 4 years at a college or university. Surveys on such a sensitive topic are particularly challenging to design, conduct, and analyze. Some colleges and universities are under federal investigation for their handling of sexual assault cases.

The Association of American Universities (AAU) hired Westat to help design and implement a survey of the prevalence of sexual assault and sexual misconduct on primarily AAU member campuses.

Our Solutions 

  • We administered a web survey over a 5-week window, with each of the 27 campuses choosing a 3-week period within that window for their survey. Most campuses offered 2 types of incentives to students to complete the survey. The survey asked about
    • The extent of nonconsensual sexual contact
    • The extent of sexual harassment, stalking, and intimate partner violence
    • Who the victims are
    • Who students report the incidents to or talk to about the incidents
  • The survey also asked about the campus climate concerning sexual assault and misconduct, including
    • Students’ perceptions of risk on campus
    • Their knowledge of resources available to victims
    • How they think others would react to a report of sexual assault or misconduct

The Results 

  • Four months after data collection ended, the Westat team published 28 reports: 1 report for each of the 27 schools, and 1 report for AAU that aggregated the results across all 27 schools.
  • The key findings:
    • The prevalence of sexual assault and misconduct and the campus climate varied a lot among colleges surveyed.
    • The incidence of sexual assault and sexual misconduct due to physical force, threats of physical force, or incapacitation among female undergraduate students across all schools was 23.1%.
    • Only between 5% and 28% of victims reported the incidents to campus officials or law enforcement. The rates varied depending on the crime.
    • The most common reason given for not reporting an incident was thinking that the incident wasn’t serious enough. Other reasons included feeling embarrassed or ashamed or thinking that it would be too emotionally difficult.
    • Some students also said they didn’t report an incident because nothing would be done about it. However, 63.3% of respondents said that campus officials would take a report of sexual assault or sexual misconduct seriously.
  • The AAU study is one of the first studies, and one of the largest, to address sexual assault and misconduct using a uniform methodology across multiple campuses.

Our Client 

Association of American Universities (AAU)