While more University of Missouri students said they are aware of services for victims of sexual assault, nearly one in four undergraduate women said they have experienced “nonconsensual sexual contact,” according to a survey released Tuesday.
About 20 percent of MU students responded to the survey administered in April and May.
MU was one of 33 Association of American Universities institutions to participate in the Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Misconduct. MU also participated in a similar survey in 2015.
MU students’ response rate to the survey was 20.4 percent. About 5,600 students participated in the survey out of the 27,445 enrolled students. Of those who participated in the survey, 3,720 were women and 1,890 were men.
According to the survey, 26.6 percent of undergraduate women said they experienced nonconsensual sexual contact since coming to MU, a decrease of less than 1 percent from the 2015 survey.
“We still don’t like the number,” Andy Hayes, assistant vice chancellor for civil rights and Title IX said. “At the end of the day one person on our campus that is sexually assaulted is one too many.”
Jennifer Carter Dochler, the public policy director of the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said she knows the victim rate is high everywhere for young adults.
“The number does not surprise me,” Carter Dochler said. “I think it still just shows, this is a high percentage, this is something we need to be very concerned about, we need to have a multi-pronged approach to be able to address it.”
The number is even higher for students who identified as transgender or gender-questioning: 29.4 percent of students in this population said they have experienced nonconsensual sexual contact. The average for AAU institutions was 40.2 percent.
Hayes said she was not surprised that the numbers for transgender of gender-questioning students were higher, “It’s been our experience with that particular group, they are not inclined to report, and then additionally, they are targeted, they are victims of sexual assault and sexual misconduct,” Hayes said.
Of the men surveyed, 7.5 percent indicated they were a victim of nonconsensual sexual contact.
Among students who identified as non-heterosexual, 26.3 percent reported they had been a victim of sexual misconduct, while 14 percent of heterosexual students reported they were a victim.
Hayes said the university is trying to address the higher rates of sexual misconduct in non-heterosexual students.
“You’ve got to go to the student population and have those conversations and really be transparent about that, so we make sure everyone feels safe on our campus,” she said.
After the 2015 survey, Haynes said MU created a task force to work toward lowering the numbers. One focus point was training and education, which Hayes said is reflected in the 2019 numbers.
Among all students surveyed, 92 percent said they were aware of specific services and resources the school provides for victims of sexual assault or other misconduct. The survey showed 71.9 percent of students are aware of the Office for Civil Rights and Title IX. In 2015, 58.1 percent of students said they were aware.
“The prevention programming that has been done at MU is fairly new in the context of the univrsity’s existence, so at some point we should hope to see those numbers decrease, but in the meantime, we’re still getting some great data to show the impact of current programming, and what do we need to do, to really tailor to what students are telling us.”
For victims of nonconsensual sexual penetration, contact with a program or resource was made in 29.9 percent of incidents involving women and 9.3 percent involving men.
The percentage is different for sexual touching by physical force or inability to consent. For these incidents, 10.1 percent of women and 18.7 percent of men got in touch with a program or resource.
“We did a good job of being visible, and talking about our office,” Hayes said, “But we need to push the next step and talk about what happens when you report in our office.”
Carter Dochler said studies show sexual orientation and gender identity can have an impact of victimization.
“Although anybody can experience domestic or sexual violence, we are seeing in national studies and MU’s report then reinforces that national study, that there are certain characteristics that can increase someone’s risk of being victimized,” she said.
“I would hope the university is going to be looking at this and make maybe enhancements to programing,” Carter Dochler said.
After a student indicated they did not report an incident of sexual misconduct, they were asked why they chose not to contact a program or resource.
For women who experienced nonconsensual penetration, 48.1 percent said they could handle it themselves, 47.2 percent said the incident was not serious enough and 36.1 percent said they were embarrassed, ashamed or that it would be too emotionally difficult.
“I was happy to hear that it wasn’t (MU) not taking them seriously or problems with the institution,” Hayes said. “We just need to make sure we have support for people, not everybody wants to go through a process.”
Carter Dochler said it’s “concerning” that people hesitate to report incidents.
“We’re still not seeing a shift in that,” she said.
In 2015, 4,750 students responded to the survey, but total enrollment was higher at the time, with 35,448 students.
Carter Dochler said she appreciates the university taking part in the survey and recognizing the concern, “This is an issue that we need to be addressing and continuing to implement strong programing so that we can start to see a reduction of numbers overtime, but that it will take time, and that they are doing some really great work in trying to get there.”
MU Chancellor Alexander Cartwright said in a news release that the safety of the campus community is the university’s top priority.
“I am grateful for the hard work of our committed faculty, staff and students who continue to make this an exceptional place to learn, live and work,” Cartwright said. “These results tell me we still have work to do. With some encouraging results, I am confident our demonstrated efforts over the past four years have been effective. However, a single instance of sexual assault or misconduct is one too many. This important work must continue.”
Watch a full report tonight on ABC 17 News at 5 and 6.