A 'chronic public health issue': Stanford officials troubled by campus sexual assault data | News | Palo Alto Online |


A 'chronic public health issue': Stanford officials troubled by campus sexual assault data

Survey shows undergrad women, transgender, gender non-conforming students experience high rates of nonconsensual sexual contact

Nearly 40% of undergraduate women who have been at Stanford University for four years have experienced some form of nonconsensual sexual contact, according to results from a campus climate survey.

Stanford released on Tuesday its results from the Association of American Universities (AAU) survey, in which 33 colleges and universities across the country participated. Provost Persis Drell said she is "deeply troubled" by Stanford's results, describing sexual violence as a "chronic public health issue."

"Despite many efforts at Stanford over the years, it is evident that much more needs to be done," she said in a letter announcing the results.

Stanford's response rate of 62% — about 10,000 undergraduate and graduate students — was the second-highest in the country. This is the first time Stanford participated in the consortium survey; the university was sharply criticized in 2015 for using its own survey that critics suggested downplayed the prevalence of sexual violence at Stanford. The 2015 survey found that nearly one-third of undergraduate women had experienced sexual misconduct during their time at the university.

The new survey results shed further light on an issue that many members of the campus community have been pressing Stanford to systemically address for years. Since starting at Stanford, 23.8% of undergraduate women and 21.7% of all TGQN students (which includes transgender women, transgender men, nonbinary/genderqueer, gender questioning or gender not listed), both undergraduate and graduate, have experienced nonconsensual sexual contact by physical force or inability to consent (defined as being passed out, asleep or incapacitated due to alcohol or drugs). By comparison, across all of the participating AAU institutions, 26% of undergraduate women reported nonconsensual sexual activity.

More than 20% of all Stanford students experienced harassment that interfered with their academic or professional performance or created a hostile environment at school. The majority of perpetrators are other Stanford students and are either friends or acquaintances of the victims.

Less than half of Stanford students (44%) believe that university officials are very or extremely likely to conduct a fair investigation into sexual misconduct allegations. Female undergraduates and students who identify as transgender, nonbinary or gender questioning were even less trusting that their campus officials would investigate reports fairly.

About 10% of undergraduate women said they experienced rape or sexual assault, attempted or completed penetration by physical force or inability to consent, at Stanford. Just under 12% of TGQN students, undergraduate and graduate, reported experiencing the same.

The rate of sexual touching (defined by the Association of American Universities as kissing; touching someone's breast, chest, crotch, groin, or buttocks; or grabbing, groping, or rubbing in a sexual way, even over a person's clothes) was highest among female undergraduates at 19%. Just under 15% of TGQN students reported having been touched in this way since enrolling at Stanford.

According to the survey, about half of nonconsensual sexual activity happens on campus at a residence hall or dorm, while 18% of women said they have experienced sexual misconduct at fraternities.

The survey also probed the emotional and academic consequences of sexual violence. Stanford women who had been sexually assaulted said they had difficulty concentrating on schoolwork. Twenty percent said their class attendance went down and 13% had difficulty going to work. Eleven percent considered dropping out of school and 9% withdrew from some or all of their classes.

Overall, rates of sexual assault at schools that participated when the Association of American Universities survey was first administered in 2015 have gone up for undergraduate, graduate and professional women and slightly for undergraduate men.

Students' knowledge about school definitions and procedures related to sexual assault and misconduct, meanwhile, has increased since 2015, according to the AAU.

"The disturbing news from this year's survey is that sexual assault and misconduct remain far too prevalent among students at all levels of study," Mary Sue Coleman, president of the Association of American Universities, said in a statement. "The good news — made possible by comparing data from the 21 schools that participated in both the 2015 and 2019 surveys — is that students are more knowledgeable than they were four years ago about what constitutes sexual assault and misconduct, how to report it, and what resources are available to victims."

Drell detailed several steps the university is taking in response to the results. Stanford plans to further analyze the data, including by disaggregating by school and degree level. The university is also bringing onto campus a community coordinator from the YWCA of Silicon Valley for "those who prefer to access resources from outside the Stanford community on issues of sexual violence and harassment." This staff person will also be available to partners and families of Stanford students.

Stanford is also launching an external review, conducted by unidentified "national experts," of university offices that deal with sexual violence and harassment. Drell expects the reviewers to produce recommendations for improvements that Stanford can act on.

To better support transgender and gender non-conforming students, Stanford will launch later this fall a new website with resources for that community as well as education for faculty and staff.

"More than a website, though, this is an effort toward developing a deeper understanding of gender identity, gender expression and how we can all engage in gender-inclusive practices," Drell said.

Stanford is holding a community meeting today (Wednesday, Oct. 16) to present the survey results from 4-5:15 p.m. at Building 420-040 on the Main Quad. People can also provide feedback anonymously via an online form or speak to university staff from multiple offices directly on Wednesday, Oct. 30, from 4-5:30 p.m. in the Old Union Clubhouse Ballroom.

Stanford administered the AAU survey last spring on the recommendation of a campus advisory committee. The university has started to release more information about its handling of sexual misconduct, including with a first-ever report last year on how the university responded to incidents of sexual misconduct involving students, staff and faculty over the last school year.

Campus resources related top sexual violence are available at stanford.edu.


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7 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 16, 2019 at 3:04 pm

Inability to consent? Does that mean so drunk they are unconscious?

If Stanford is serious about trying to reduce the number of assaults on campus, I think the first thing they should do is reduce the amount of drinking, particularly underage drinking, and particularly the binge drinking or drinking so much that a person is unable to function.

When this type of data is publicized, it should go right beside similar data on alcohol consumption.

And it goes without saying that drinking is a problem that affects all genders and makes all genders behave differently to how they would behave if they were sober.

3 people like this
Posted by Questions
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 17, 2019 at 8:56 am

I tried comparing Stanford's numbers to MIT's (while MIT does have student athletics and student athletes, it's a whole different ballgame, as they say). But the MIT article I could find was extremely difficult to correlate with the article above and at times seemed contradictory.
Web Link

In some ways, MIT seems to have much lower rates, and in others, slightly higher -- but again, it's very hard to correlate. If someone has the patience to find the actual surveys and correlate them, it would be interesting because presumably we would be comparing a similar student population with a few stark differences:

MIT's greek life is much more separated from the campus than Stanford's, and there are more major colleges in the Boston area, so the girls who go to the fraternity parties may represent a different mix of colleges than Stanford's percentagewise, so the results related just to violence experienced at fraternities may be skewed (if a higher percentage of women from only Stanford attend the Stanford parties). And while MIT has a lot of student athletics, they don't have the level of high-performng student athletes that Stanford has, nor that kind of athletic recruitment (thinking along the lines of the possible influence of potential steroid misuse re: dorm violence).

I wonder if comparisons with schools that have such stark contrasts in only narrow areas, not just national averages, could inform how to target a response to improve things. Does the sense of how the university responds relate to the numbers? Is it a problem of the culture the universities foster or can admissions play a role?

Can fraternity organizations play a role in improving things? (It seems like the assaults at fraternities are lower by % but perhaps might be higher in terms of how much time is spent together, i.e., higher rate of assault per time spent in contact with others?). Do both universities have all female dorms -- how do those rates compare (not that you can't have assault in dorm rooms no matter who lives there, it would just be a way to roughly compare assault versus living contact time).

The MIT article states " a new policy has been developed and approved for handling harassment and discrimination complaints against faculty and staff. The revised faculty and staff policy will go into effect on February 3, 2020. This policy, which will rely on professional, neutral investigators to conduct fact finding, will provide enhanced processes for consistent and fair handling of these types of complaints."

(I wish PAUSD would do this for all serious complaints!) Does Stanford have a neutral investigation body -- and what constitutes "neutral"?

3 people like this
Posted by safe at home
a resident of Triple El
on Oct 17, 2019 at 9:24 am

"Does that mean so drunk"

No. Half the incidents occurred in dormitories.

3 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 17, 2019 at 9:44 am

Posted by safe at home, a resident of Triple El

>> "Does that mean so drunk"
>> No. Half the incidents occurred in dormitories.

I hope you have already noticed the two flaws in your reasoning here, so, I will address a third issue:

Why does our society endlessly celebrate alcohol? I'm very aware that some top schools have seen drinking as a necessary part of education for the elite business and political world. Is drinking really -necessary- today?

5 people like this
Posted by HMB
a resident of another community
on Oct 17, 2019 at 9:45 am

And dorms are where a lot of the drinking goes on, particularly the 'pre-gaming'

6 people like this
Posted by Disturbing
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 18, 2019 at 5:26 am

This latest information is very disturbing. The point made about the influence of alcohol on campus and in these incidents is well taken. However, the lack of respect for the rights of all students by those students is very upsetting to me. It is all well and good to provide the finest in physical structures and academic opportunities on campus. However, if Stanford does not protect the health and well being of all of its students, what is the point of being rated as one of the best academic institutions in our country. As a parent, would you want your child to attend a school where their personal safety is not a given?

2 people like this
Posted by Anneke
a resident of Professorville
on Oct 18, 2019 at 10:39 am

And these students are our future doctors, lawyers and politicians!

Like this comment
Posted by safe at home
a resident of Triple El
on Oct 18, 2019 at 12:10 pm

Cool. Let's shift the discussion to alcohol. It's the alcohol - booze hasn't been around long (it was just vaping in "Animal House", right?)

Where would apologists be without whataboutisms?

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