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Report will help IU respond to sexual assaults

  • Oct. 21, 2015

Editor's note: This story from The Bloomington Herald-Times is being published here as a courtesy for readers of IU in the News.

By Kat Carlton

This is what a report from Indiana University tells us about the nature of sexual assaults on and off the Bloomington campus:

• Most people don’t report them to police.

• Women are largely the targets, and men are largely the perpetrators.

• Alcohol is usually involved.

• Many students still don’t understand the legal definition of consent, especially when alcohol is involved.

• More than half of women who reported incidents to the university said staff or university procedures did not help them, helped only a little or could have helped them more.

Last November, more than 41,000 undergraduate and graduate IU students received the survey by email. About 17 percent, or 7,132 students, completed at least 50 percent of the survey, and more than 9,600 students completed some portion of it. Sixty-two percent of respondents were women.

“Many of the findings in this survey, while consistent with national trends on this challenging issue, were very sobering and speak to the need for even greater attention and resources to be focused on problems associated with sexual assault on college campuses,” said Indiana University President Michael McRobbie in a news release Monday.

Leslie Fasone, assistant dean for women’s and gender affairs, was a leading administrator on the survey. One of the findings of most concern to her was the 86 percent of undergraduate women and 85 percent of graduate women participants who said they experienced some form of nonconsensual sexual act and did not report it to anyone at IU.

“We want people to be able to feel like they can come forward,” said Fasone. “It can be a really traumatic experience for people.”

Last year, 29 students reported rape or fondling to IU, according to the university’s most recent released annual crime statistics. Since the beginning of IU’s fall semester this year, police have opened investigations into at least seven reports of sexual assault or rape.

Fasone said IU will be amping up bystander intervention training tactics, which could play a role in handling situations that involve alcohol. When it comes to alcohol and consent, survey results show many students still don’t understand the university’s definition of consent, which states that consent cannot be given if a person is impaired by alcohol.

More than 20 percent of all male respondents reported that people who drink heavily could still give consent.

Fasone said her office has already done 90-minute bystander intervention training sessions with about 4,000 students in classrooms that requested it, and she expects to see more requests following the survey results’ release. A majority of undergraduate survey participants reported they experienced at least one program, class or event designed to educate them on topics related to sexual assault.

Emily Springston is IU’s chief student welfare officer and also played a key role in administering the survey.

She said another thing IU will work on involves changing its messaging to reach more students.

“Our graduate students, we know, feel a little bit disconnected from the conversation,” said Springston.

Springston said she expects and hopes that IU’s number of reported sexual assaults (but not the number of actual sexual assaults) goes up in the coming years. Increasing reports could signify a cultural shift toward not accepting sexual misconduct or shaming victims.

“I think for me,” said Springston, “(the survey) really was confirming our working assumptions about our Bloomington students.”

About two-thirds of women respondents on IU’s campus reported they agreed or strongly agreed with the sentiment “I feel safe on this campus.”

The survey tool and research procedures were developed by faculty at IU’s Kinsey Institute and the department of gender studies, along with administrators from the Dean of Students Office, the Office of Student Welfare and Title IX, with input from students.

Fasone said IU hopes to conduct similar surveys in the future.

The full survey, along with other resources, can be found at http://stopsexualviolence.iu.edu.