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Addressing Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct on AAU Campuses

AAU’s Follow-up to Groundbreaking 2015 Report Shows Progress, Yet Much Work Remains

An important part of AAU’s work is ensuring that our member institutions have the information they need to help them promote the safety of every student, faculty member, and staffer on campus. This is the main reason why, in 2015, AAU conducted our first survey of the campus climate around sexual assault and sexual misconduct . This groundbreaking survey was designed to assess the incidence, prevalence, and characteristics of incidents of sexual assault and misconduct among our student bodies.

We learned from that survey, and it has resulted in many changes in how our campuses are now working to address and increase awareness about the prevalence of sexual assault.

AAU recently released the results of an even larger follow-up to the 2015 survey – and the results provide cause for both hope and continued concern. Slightly more than 181,000 students from 33 colleges and universities, including 32 AAU member schools, completed the survey. There are three big takeaways from this work:

  • First, rates of sexual assault and misconduct remain far too high. In fact, this year’s survey shows that rates of sexual assault and misconduct as measured by self-reports from students have increased slightly since 2015. Some groups of students – including women, non-cisgender students, and others – continue to be victimized at disproportionately high rates. These disturbing numbers make clear that there is much more we must do.
  • The good news is that students know more than they did in 2015 about what sexual assault and misconduct are as well as how and where to report incidents and to access university-sponsored resources for victims.
  • But there is one significant downside to that increase in knowledge: While students know more about what sexual assault is and where to go if they are victimized than they did in 2015, the 2019 survey shows they still aren’t reporting assault or using resources for victims often enough.

This study confirms that we still have work to do to make our campuses safer for all students. AAU and other colleges and universities must continue to educate students about how to report sexual assault and misconduct. Schools should continue to focus their educational efforts on incoming undergraduate students, since they are clearly more vulnerable to sexual assault and misconduct than their older classmates. The new survey shows that administrators and academic departments must also concentrate on the distinct environment for graduate and professional students as it pertains to sexual harassment.

This report provides our campuses with additional data to address this vexing problem. Access to our data will also permit additional scholars and researchers to investigate further multiple aspects of sexual assault and misconduct. Good data are necessary for good analysis, which in turn is necessary to make good, effective decisions. Protecting students is paramount, and I am proud that AAU is helping to find solutions to the problem of sexual assault and misconduct on campus.