ANN ARBOR—University of Michigan students overwhelmingly say they feel safe from sexual misconduct on the Ann Arbor campus, yet about 11 percent of all students— male, female, undergraduates and graduate students—report some form of nonconsensual sexual behavior during the past year. That unwanted behavior could include touching, kissing, fondling or penetration.
The survey also found that 9.7 percent of all female students—12 percent of female undergraduates—experienced nonconsensual sexual penetration.
Those are several of the many findings revealed through a survey of the student body this spring to gauge the campus climate regarding sexual misconduct. The questions and survey methodology, designed by a university team including the Institute for Social Research, Student Life and the Office of the General Counsel, was offered to a representative sample of 3,000 undergraduate and graduate students. It is the first detailed data on sexual misconduct on the U-M campus.
(The 2007 Campus Sexual Assault Study, conducted at two other large public universities, found as many as 20 percent of undergraduate females at those institutions experienced some form of sexual assault, while a recent U.S. Department of Justice survey found the rate of sexual assault was 1.2 times higher for nonstudents among females age 18-24 than among college students.)
The U-M survey had a 67 percent response rate, significantly higher than the response rate for typical college campus web surveys.
"As a university president, a physician-scientist, an educator and a father, the issue of sexual misconduct keeps me awake at night," said U-M President Mark Schlissel. "I feel personally responsible for the safety and well-being of all students at the University of Michigan."
The survey found that 11.4 percent of all students said they experienced some form of nonconsensual sexual behavior in the past year. However, that percentage jumps to 22.5 percent of undergraduate female students and declines to 9.2 percent of graduate female students.
Among male students, the survey found that 6.8 percent of undergraduate males reported some form of nonconsensual sexual behavior and just 1.1 percent of graduate male students reported such activity.
"Having good data is important," Schlissel said. "The more we know about our own community, the more we can spread awareness of the issues we face and the better we are able to focus our programs to be successful.
"It is a challenge to face these issues forthrightly, but it's also critical that we do so if we are to solve this issue, together. We want every student to feel safe on our campus and to trust the university to take the appropriate action when necessary."
Kathy White, chair of the university's Board of Regents, says the board supports sharing the data from the survey widely to facilitate broad understanding of this important topic.
"As a university community we must do everything we can to address sexual misconduct through the best possible education and prevention efforts. This survey helps us achieve that," she said.
The survey asked specifically about nonconsensual sexual penetration, which could include vaginal, anal or oral penetration. The survey found that 9.7 percent of all female students experienced nonconsensual sexual penetration compared to 1.4 percent of male students. Among female students, 12 percent of undergraduate females reported nonconsensual sexual penetration compared with 4.3 percent of graduate females.
In most cases, the unwanted sexual penetration occurred primarily after verbal pressure, under the influence of drugs or when too drunk to stop what was happening. Fewer than 1 percent of students report nonconsensual penetration due to the use of physical force.
Verbal pressure was described in the survey as "continually verbally pressuring someone after they said they didn't want to. This includes telling lies, threatening to end the relationship, threatening to spread rumors about them, showing displeasure, criticizing their sexuality or attractiveness or getting angry but not using physical force." Physical force was described as "holding you down with their body weight, pinning your arms or having a weapon."
"Our goal is to use the initial survey results to fine-tune the programs that already are in place and then continue to delve into the data, share it broadly with the university community and discuss additional, longer-term strategies for enhancing our sexual misconduct prevention programs," said Holly Rider-Milkovich, director of the university's Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center.
Most incidents of nonconsensual sexual behavior occurred off or near campus, rather than on campus, according to the survey. Also, in most cases (56 percent) students who said they had a nonconsensual sexual experience said another U-M student was responsible. Only 5.5 percent of students reported no prior relationship or did not know the perpetrator.
The survey found that nearly 86 percent of all students know U-M has a Student Sexual Misconduct Policy, and about 89 percent of all students reported feeling relatively safe from sexual misconduct on the Ann Arbor campus.
A little more than 55 percent of all students say they have received training or attended programs that provided education on sexual misconduct, such as prevention of sexual assault, confidential resources, or how to report an incident (in actuality, the percentage is significantly higher—see the "About U-M prevention efforts" section).
One of the unique aspects of the U-M analysis is the identification of specific demographic factors that increase the risk of experiencing unwanted sexual behaviors, says William Axinn, professor of sociology and former director of the Survey Research Center at the U-M Institute for Social Research, who coordinated the team that designed the campus climate survey.
According to Axinn's analysis of the survey data:
- Females were about eight times more likely than males to experience nonconsensual penetration.
- Undergraduates were three times more likely than graduate students to be at risk of nonconsensual penetration.
- Lesbian, gay or bisexual students were 2.5 times more likely than heterosexual students to experience unwanted penetration.
- Sorority or fraternity members were 2.5 times more likely to experience nonconsensual penetration than non-Greek students.
- Underrepresented minority students were two times more at risk of unwanted penetration than nonminority students.
- Club sports members were two times more likely than the general student population to experience nonconsensual penetration. There is no statistically significant difference related to varsity athletes and the general student population.
- There is no statistically significant difference in risk for undergraduate females by class rank—freshman, sophomore, junior or senior. In other words, undergraduate freshman women were not more likely to be assaulted than undergraduates of any other class rank.
U-M has long been an advocate of reporting instances of sexual misconduct and this year issued its first report detailing 129 reports of sexual misconduct. However, the survey found that, overwhelmingly, students report instances of unwanted sexual behavior to a friend, not to official university sources.
Among students who said they had at least one nonconsensual sexual experience at U-M in the past year, 46 percent told someone else—primarily a friend or a roommate. Just 3.6 percent of students told an official resource and of those who did, only about 60 percent said they received at least one response that made them feel supported. Most students who reported to an official resource chose to contact U-M's Counseling and Psychological Services or the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center.
Students who said they did not report their nonconsensual sexual experience were asked why they chose not to report. Most said they did not want to get the person responsible in trouble, or they blamed themselves. A significant number also felt embarrassed or ashamed, did not think U-M would do anything or did not believe the incident was serious enough to merit a report.
"Clearly we have more work to do to underscore the importance of reporting unwanted sexual behavior," Rider-Milkovich said. "Reporting the behavior is an important first step that allows the university or police to take action and allows us to connect students to support services."
The survey also asked about sexual harassment, and nearly 23 percent of all students reported experiencing some form of sexual harassment. Most said they had been stared at in a sexual way, had been the subject of teasing comments of a sexual nature or someone had made a sexual motion toward the student, all in spite of requests to stop.
The survey also asked more generally about sexual activity among students. Nearly 80 percent of all students surveyed reported they had engaged in some form of sexual activity, including kissing and fondling, in the past 12 months. Among those students, most sought—and gave—nonverbal consent.
Approximately 16 percent of students were drinking more than half the time they were engaged in sexual activity during the past 12 months. Nearly 7 percent of students were drunk more than 50 percent of the time.
U-M also was one of 28 universities across the nation to participate in a second campus climate survey administered by the Association of American Universities. The results of that survey are expected to be released this fall.
About the survey
The university chose a sample rather than a census because, when done correctly, a sample can more accurately reflect the whole campus, and is a more efficient way to document the full variation in the campus population, Axinn says.
Men and women responded about equally to the survey. One third of the sample was graduate students, to match the proportion of graduate students on the Ann Arbor campus. All of the responses relate to experiences in the past 12 months. This approach ensures accurate comparisons across subgroups within the population and allows accurate assessments of changes in university policies and programs over time.
Axinn says U-M had a high response rate, in part, because the university offered all participants an incentive and used multiple modes to contact students instead of relying exclusively on email. He says students were contacted by email, U.S. Postal Service letter, phone and in some cases through personal visits to collect their responses. The Survey Sciences Group, an Ann Arbor-based research firm, administered the survey.
About U-M prevention efforts
Every first-year student must participate in an online awareness and prevention education program before arriving on campus. Completion rates for this "Community Matters" program have exceeded 90 percent every year since implementation in 2009. Once on campus, first-year students get three additional exposures to prevention training.
In addition, the university expanded awareness and prevention education beyond first-year students to include new staff and graduate students, as well as the addition of bystander intervention training to new-student programming in fall 2014. The university also conducts additional training with student leaders in Greek Life, student athletes and coaches, ROTC cadets and other campus groups.
U-M has had a Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center on campus since 1986. SAPAC provides educational and confidential supportive services for all U-M community members related to sexual assault, intimate partner violence, sexual harassment and stalking.
The Office for Institutional Equity conducts investigations into allegations of sexual misconduct and identifies resources and support for all parties involved in the investigation process. The office publishes an annual report that tracks the outcome of those investigations.
The U-M Police Department recently organized a Special Victims Unit that will provide primary response to and investigation of interpersonal violence crimes that are reported to have occurred on campus. These incidents include sexual assaults, domestic violence, stalking and child abuse.