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Sexual misconduct survey informs prevention efforts

All members of the William & Mary community now receive prevention training on sexual harassment and misconduct.

Starting last fall, entering graduate students are required to take Haven Plus training, which is similar to Haven modules that entering freshmen, transfer students, faculty and staff take. The online course includes information on sexual harassment and violence and offers trainees information on their rights and university resources. 

The training is part of continued efforts at William & Mary to prevent and address sexual harassment and misconduct. Many of those efforts stem from the university’s 2014-15 Task Force on Preventing Sexual Assault & Harassment as well as the ongoing work of the Title IX office and the Coordinating Committee on the Prevention of Sexual Assault & Harassment. That committee recently released the results of a sexual misconduct survey administered last year, and its members hope that the findings will help to further refine and focus the university’s work.

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“We know from national statistics that sexual violence happens frequently on college campuses, but what’s most pertinent to us is what’s happening at William & Mary,” said Mayanthi Jayawardena, sexual violence prevention specialist and assistant director of health promotion. “This informs what we do in terms of prevention, policies and how we support survivors.”

Making progress

The Coordinating Committee on the Prevention of Sexual Assault & Harassment is co-chaired by Jayawardena and Dean of Students Marjorie Thomas. It was established to support the efforts of the Title IX coordinator, Kiersten Boyce, and her colleagues as they work to address issues around sexual assault and harassment.

The latest version of the informational poster that hangs in restrooms across campus. Click for a larger version.

Much of the work of the committee and the Title IX has focused on prevention, particularly through education and awareness programs. In addition to Haven Plus training, recent efforts have included an update to the informational posters found in restrooms across campus, improvements to orientation for incoming freshmen, the development of educational opportunities for returning students and targeted outreach to student-athletes and sorority and fraternity members, who have also been working themselves to address these issues.

A new bystander intervention program, developed by Assistant Director of Health Promotion T. Davis, is also being launched this semester.

Title IX staff members have also developed protocols to ensure that every reported incident is triaged by a specially-trained team, that students receive support and assistance and that investigations are fair, prompt and thorough, with additional investigator positions and improved investigation procedures. This spring, Haven Director Liz Cascone is training key administrative staff on updated protocols for responding to student disclosures of sexual misconduct.

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Later this month, the coordinating committee is hosting three performances by the group Speak About It in the Commonwealth Auditorium. The shows are scheduled for 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. March 19 and 7:30 p.m. March 20, with the last two being geared toward athletes and sorority and fraternity members. Sponsored by Student Affairs, Tribe Athletics and the Office of Compliance, the “Consent, Hooking Up, Boundaries, Relationships” performances will be followed by discussions with the members of the group and members of the campus community. The shows are free, but students are asked to bring ID.

Moving forward

Future efforts are expected to be driven and supported by a student survey that was conducted last year, following up on a similar survey that was administered in 2014 but had notable limitations. For example, it lacked questions on alcohol consumption and others circumstances around incidents.

Student affairs staff members have already been meeting with student groups to discuss the data and to begin working to address some of the issues that were identified, building on continuing efforts.

The new survey instrument was created by the Association of American Universities and includes questions on topics ranging from perceptions and bystander behavior to physical and non-physical sexual violence. It was modified slightly to be more applicable to W&M.

“We added a couple of questions, for example, around interpersonal and domestic violence because that’s something Liz Cascone in the Haven has seen quite a bit during her time here,” said Director of Student Affairs Planning and Assessment Anna Mroch.

The survey was sent to all undergraduate and graduate students at W&M in spring 2017, and 2,672 people responded — about 30 percent of the campus population — with 1,899 finishing the entire survey for a completion rate of about 22 percent.

“With that completion rate, we are able to say that we’re 95 percent certain that the true result for the whole community is plus or minus two whatever we have within the survey, so we have about a five percentage range for the result, which is really good,” said Mroch.

Survey results


Some of the key findings of the survey include:

  • 69 percent of respondents experienced some form of harassment or sexual misconduct, which includes harassment, stalking, interpersonal/domestic violence, physical sexual violence and non-physical sexual violence.
  • 21 percent — one in five women and one in 16 men — of respondents experienced physical sexual violence, which includes unwanted kissing, touching, groping or penetration in which there is physical force, threats of physical force or incapacitation. Nonphysical sexual violence includes the same actions, but with threats of non-physical harm or the promise of rewards.
  • 68 percent of those who said they experienced physical sexual violence said that the incident happened on campus or a university-affiliated off-campus property.
  • For those who experienced harassment, 97 percent of respondents said it was a student who was the perpetrator. For those who experienced physical sexual violence and non-physical sexual violence, 89 percent and 85 percent of respondents respectively said that the perpetrator was a student.
  • For those who experienced physical sexual violence, many respondents said that both perpetrators (80 percent) and victims (81 percent) had consumed alcohol at the time of the incident.
  • 34 percent of respondents had seen or heard someone acting in a sexually violent or harassing way.
  • Fraternity and sorority life (FSL) members who responded reported experiencing sexual misconduct at a higher rate than other segments of the campus population. For example, 31 percent of FSL members reported experiencing at least one incident of physical sexual violence compared to 12 percent of non-affiliated students.

More information about the meanings of the terms used and survey results is available online.

Generally, W&M’s survey statistics mirror national averages within a couple of percentage points, said Jayawardena.

“It’s never easy to see these numbers because it reminds us that this is happening in our community, in our Tribe, and that’s hard,” she said. “At the same time, even if the numbers were not the same as the national average, even if it was just one student who had experienced this, that’s still one too many.”

The survey also shows that prevention and education efforts have been successful. For example, 61 percent of respondents in the last survey said they didn’t know how to file a grievance related to sexual harassment or gender discrimination. In the 2017 survey, 95 percent of respondents correctly identified where to find information, where to make a report or which individuals or department resources could help them.

Because of differences in questions and definition of terms, the new survey can’t be directly compared to the one in 2014, said Mroch, but it is intended to serve as a baseline for future surveys, which are expected to be administered every two years.

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The results of the W&M survey are being used to support the further implementation of recommendations from the task force and shape how those actions are carried out. For example, the data is helping the Fraternity and Sorority Life Steering Committee to train leaders and members on prevention and survivor support. The data is also informing the work of a group that was formed under the Office of Student Leadership Development and the Hazing Prevention Coalition to review the practices of some student organizations that may create hostile environments or give rise to sexual misconduct or harassment.

The results of the survey will also inform both peer educators as they develop campus-wide programming and campus partners as they prepare presentations for orientation.

“With any assessment, after you get the initial picture of what’s going on and the basic understanding, you can move into more focused areas of improvement,” said Mroch. “So we’ve done the general improvement of making sure students know where they can report, having signs in all of the bathroom stalls, making sure the website has a lot of information, to now looking at being more focused on are there pockets of students from whatever demographic that we’re not reaching? Are there pieces related to our response that we can improve? Are there pieces related to our communication?

“That allows us to continue to refine the work that we’re doing to best serve students, both in the prevention aspects of it but also the response pieces for victims.”

Student involvement

Individual students as well as student groups such as Health Outreach Peer Educators (HOPE), Someone You Know, 16(IX)3 and The Haven have been instrumental in many aspects of the university’s Title IX work, said Jayawardena. As W&M moves forward, students will continue to play a significant role, she said, adding that they are key to culture change.

“It’s imperative that students are involved in prevention efforts, and I am immensely proud of the incredible students that I get to work with every day.

“At William & Mary we have the unique situation where we have passionate, invested and innovative students and a dedicated administration — two key groups that are working really hard and have made significant strides together. I think because of that perfect combination, we can continue to make progress, especially in the area of prevention.”