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Campus Survey on Sexual Misconduct Reveals Student Perceptions and Experiences

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Northwestern University students agreed almost unanimously that it is important to get consent before sexual activity, and nearly three-fourths of students agreed that students at Northwestern respect one another’s personal space.

Those and other findings from the Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Misconduct conducted by the University earlier this year were released today (Sept. 28). The survey of Northwestern students, conducted last spring, generated nearly 3,000 responses from students at all levels.

“Northwestern is committed to fostering a learning, working and living environment where all members of our community can thrive, free from sexual misconduct,” said President Morton Schapiro. “The survey results are a matter of great concern and support the need for the initiatives that Northwestern has already undertaken, and additional measures as well. The information we have learned from this survey will provide valuable insight to the University as we continue our efforts on this issue, which is important both nationally and at Northwestern.” 

Northwestern earlier this month issued a revised Policy on Sexual Misconduct that provides updated information on reporting options and available resources. Northwestern also has augmented training and education aimed at preventing such incidents. Read the updated policy.

The Campus Climate Survey report released today had an overall response rate of 15 percent, but a 27 percent response rate among undergraduate females. Response rates among other student groups were: undergraduate males, 16 percent; graduate/professional females, 13 percent; and graduate/professional males, 9 percent. Northwestern’s Office of Institutional Research distributed the survey and collected the data, which were then analyzed by the Office of Student Affairs Assessment with input from a committee of students, faculty and staff.

Students were asked about whether they had experienced sexual misconduct. Highlights of the survey results were:

  • When asked if they had experienced sexual assault since being a student at Northwestern, 16 percent of the 2,071 students who responded to the question (not all students responded to each question) said they had been touched or fondled without their consent, and 4 percent said they had been penetrated in some fashion without their consent. Among undergraduate females, 31 percent of the 792 students who responded to the question said they had been touched or fondled without their consent, and 9 percent said they had been penetrated in some fashion without their consent.
  • When asked if they had experienced sexual exploitation, sexual harassment, dating violence, domestic violence or stalking since being a student at Northwestern, students generally reported low frequency of such incidents. Of the 2,071 students who responded to the question, 15 percent said they had been sexually harassed in some fashion, 8 percent said they had been stalked or followed or sent repeated unwanted messages, 5 percent said someone had sexually exploited them, and 4 percent said they had been in a relationship that involved intimidation, harassment, physical abuse or sexual abuse.

In addition to asking students about their experience, the survey also probed student attitudes and beliefs regarding the campus climate related to sexual misconduct. Key findings included:

  • Almost all (97 percent) of the students surveyed agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, “I believe it is important to get consent before sexual activity.”
  • A total of 91 percent of respondents said they believed their friends would watch out for them if it seemed like something bad might happen to them at a party or social event.
  • Seventy-four percent agreed or strongly agreed that students at Northwestern respect one another’s personal space.

Students also voiced differing levels of awareness regarding Northwestern’s resources that are available to those who have experienced sexual misconduct. More than 90 percent of respondents said they were aware of University Police, University Health Service, and Counseling and Psychological Services. Among the offices that deal most directly with students who had experienced sexual misconduct, the Women’s Center had the highest level of awareness (78 percent) followed by the Center for Awareness, Response and Education (74 percent), the Sexual Harassment Prevention Office (54 percent), the Title IX Coordinator/Deputy Coordinator (53 percent) and the Office of Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution (52 percent).

In addition to revising the University’s Policy on Sexual Misconduct, Northwestern this fall unveiled other new or updated procedures, resources and training. 

“These new initiatives and additional resources will enable Northwestern to work even more effectively in preventing incidents of sexual misconduct and responding appropriately when those incidents are reported,” said Patricia Telles-Irvin, vice president for student affairs. “We will continue to analyze the results of the Campus Climate Survey and work with our students, faculty and staff to ensure that Northwestern continues to be a safe and supportive community.”

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