Understanding the 2017 Climate Survey

Understanding the Climate Survey

As part of its work, William & Mary's Task Force on Preventing Sexual Assault and Harassment conducted a campus climate survey.

The survey, developed by Association of American Universities (AAU) was minimally modified to be institutional specific.  The survey was distributed to every enrolled student – graduate and undergraduate – at William & Mary between March 21 and April 2, 2017. A total of 2,672 undergraduate and graduate students (30 percent of the population) responded to the survey, which asked about personal experiences of sexual misconduct (sexual harassment, stalking, interpersonal/domestic violence, physical sexual violence, and non-physical sexual violence) since enrolling at the university. The survey also inquired about Title IX awareness, bystander behaviors, the grievance process, campus climate and opinions.

Although the survey provided a lot of information on many aspects of sexual assault at William & Mary, it is important to understand the instrument, including its limitations. The following is a list of frequently asked questions regarding the climate survey.

Read the executive survey report (pdf).

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Frequently Asked Questions

 

Why did the Task Force conduct a climate survey?

Due to the limitations of the eduOutcomes survey during the 2014 administration we were provided with a limited understanding on students’ experiences of sexual misconduct. Utilizing the modified AAU survey for the 2017 administration we were able to gain a clearer understanding of the student experience.  This data is critical for the committee to form their recommendations and to assure their efforts are grounded in the experiences students have reported. The data from this survey administration will be used to inform recommendations, improvements, and additions to our sexual misconduct prevention and response efforts. (back to top)

 

How will you use the data gathered?

Results of the survey directly influence the recommendations, improvements, and additions to our sexual misconduct prevention and response efforts. For example, survey data showed that at the time of incident, 79.7% of perpetrators and 80.9% of victims drank alcohol prior.

This information assists us as we develop our education & outreach during new student orientation, continuing education, trainings, initiatives and more. Understanding the influences of substances such as alcohol on issues of sexual misconduct allow us to create more targeted outreach in partnership with others on campus working on substance use prevention.

Because survey data showed that fraternity and sorority members experience sexual misconduct at rates higher than non-affiliated students, members of the fraternity/sorority life steering committee are developing trainings for chapter members to learn about sexual misconduct and how they can prevent it. Chapter leaders are being educated on the latest statistics to gain a better understanding of the current climate so that they can begin developing strategic plans to prevent misconduct. These trainings/discussions will also focus on how best to support their sisters and brothers who have experienced sexual assault/harassment. (back to top)

 

What were some of the limitations?

The survey addressed most limitations of the 2014 eduOutcomes survey administration.  The modified AAU survey asked a couple of questions on the role of alcohol in instances of experienced physical sexual violence. It also asked the class year, sexual orientation, gender identity and citizenship status of respondents. And the survey asked about the circumstances under which physical sexual violence occurred but no other forms of sexual misconduct.  While the survey asked the sexual orientations of respondents, we do not have enough respondents identified as non-heterosexual to determine statistical differences of their experiences.  This is also true for student athletes, gender non-binary, non-citizen/permanent residents, first-generation, and transfer student respondents. Further exploration of the role of alcohol and the circumstances surrounding sexual misconduct could be incorporated into future administrations.   (back to top)

 

How do these data compare to rates of sexual assault nationally? 

We really can't compare those figures to W&M's data in a meaningful way. Until we have a survey that is used uniformly by colleges across the country, it will be very difficult to compare ourselves to other institutions or to national benchmarks. The commonly cited statistics – 1-in-5 undergrad women will experience sexual assault while in college (from the U.S. Department of Justice), 1-in-4 college women have experienced rape or attempted rape since their 14th birthday (from the 1985 Koss study) – rely on different questions and different definitions of rape and sexual assault.  For our survey, the occurrence rate of physical sexual violence - a term we use to capture various types of nonconsensual sexual contact - is in line with the U.S. Department of Justice rate of 1-in-5 sexual assault while in college.  (back to top)

 

 How do the 2017 results compare to the 2014?

It is difficult to compare the 2017 results to those of the 2014 survey. Similar to the difficulties of comparing our results to the commonly cited statistics, definitions used on each survey were different. In addition, they questions asked were not exact matches.  For example, within the 2014 survey we asked students if they had experienced the following, as individual questions: being touched in an unwelcome way, being grabbed in an unwelcome way, or being pinched in an unwelcome way.  Within the 2017 survey we asked: since you have been attending William & Mary, has someone used physical force or threats of physical force to do any of the following with you: kissing; touching someone’s breast, chest, crotch, groin or buttocks; or grabbing, groping or rubbing against the other in a sexual way, even if the touching is over the other’s clothes. We also ask if it happened when they were unable to consent, or if someone had contact with them by threatening non-physical harm or promising rewards.  Compared to the 2014 survey the survey used in 2017 provides a deeper understanding of what our students are experiencing and the circumstances around the unwanted contact.

 

How does W&M compare to other institutions?

W&M did not conduct this survey to see how we compared to other schools. It was an internal effort intended to help the task force and those working on this issue understand the nature and extent of the problem at W&M. No matter where our rates stand in relation to other institutions', it is clear that sexual misconduct happens too frequently at W&M. The only acceptable rate is zero. (back to top)

 

Why use the term "sexual misconduct" instead of calling it sexual assault?

Sexual assault is one specific form of sexual misconduct. This survey – and W&M's policies – cover a much broader array of inappropriate behaviors that are nonconsensual or unwanted. These behaviors could include remarks about physical appearance, persistent sexual advances, or stalking. They also could include threats of force to get someone to engage in sexual behavior such as nonconsensual or unwanted touching, sexual exploitation, sexual penetration, oral sex, anal sex or attempts to engage in these behaviors. These behaviors could be initiated by someone known or unknown, including someone with which you are in or have been in a relationship. (back to top)

 

How can you draw any meaningful conclusions from a survey that was completed by only a third of the student body?

On all demographic variables that we could test, the respondents mirrored the actual student population very well. This allows us to have even more confidence in the accuracy of the results.

30% is considered a good response for survey research in the social sciences. It is also a fairly typical response rate for student surveys at W&M. Even using the actual completion rate (which is lower – 22%), the response rate translates to a margin of error of less than 2 percentage points (+/-). (back to top)

 

What is the difference between physical sexual violence and non-physical sexual violence?

Both physical and non-physical sexual violence included incidences of penetration, kissing, groping, and touching.  The difference lies in the type of threat, coercion, or lack of consent used before the incidences occurred.

Physical sexual violence included incidents that involved force or threats of force against you. Force could include someone holding you down with his or her body weight, pinning your arms, hitting or kicking you, or using or threatening to use a weapon against you.  It also includes incidents when you were unable to consent or stop what was happening because you were passed out, asleep, or incapacitated due to drugs or alcohol. We asked students to include incidents even if they were not sure what happened.

Non-physical sexual violence included incidents that involved other forms including threatening serious non-physical harm or promising rewards such that you felt you must comply. For example, this coercion could include threatening to give you bad grades, cause trouble for you at work, share damaging information about you with your family, friends or authority figures, posting damaging information about you online, promising good grades, promotion at work, or gifts and money. Non-physical sexual violence also includes incidents that occurred without your active, ongoing voluntary agreement, such as, initiating sexual activity despite your refusal, ignoring your cues to stop or slow down, went ahead without checking in or while you were still deciding, or otherwise failed to obtain your consent.

 

20% of respondents reported being the victim of physical sexual violence. Does this mean 20% of the student body, or 1,758 people, have been raped at W&M?

No.  As the previous answer explains, “physical sexual violence” is a term that captures a variety of behavior ranging from non-consensual kissing to forcible rape.  In order to ensure individuals didn’t use their own definitions of sexual assault and rape, we asked if specific behaviors had happened to them. We asked the following:   

Has someone used physical force or threats of physical force to do the following with you:  

  • Sexual penetration: When one person puts a penis, fingers, or object inside someone else's vagina or anus, or Oral sex: When someone's mouth or tongue makes contact with someone else's genitals
  • Kissing touching someone's breast, chest, crotch, groin or buttocks grabbing, groping or rubbing against the other in a sexual way, even if the touching is over the other's clothes

Has someone used physical force or threats of physical force in a failed attempt to do any of the following with you: 

  • Sexual penetration: When one person puts a penis, fingers, or object inside someone else's vagina or anus, or Oral sex: When someone's mouth or tongue makes contact with someone else's genitals

Has any of the following happened to you while you were unable to consent or stop what was happening because you were passed out, asleep, or incapacitated due to drugs or alcohol: 

  • Sexual penetration: When one person puts a penis, fingers, or object inside someone else's vagina or anus, or Oral sex: When someone's mouth or tongue makes contact with someone else's genitals
  • Kissing touching someone's breast, chest, crotch, groin or buttocks grabbing, groping or rubbing against the other in a sexual way, even if the touching is over the other's clothes

We do not what percentage of the responses indicate conduct that a prosecutor would consider to be rape under applicable criminal law. 

Some other things to keep in mind when reading these statistics are:

  • Whether a statistic holds true for the entire student body depends on how representative the respondents were of the student population as a whole. If people who experienced physical sexual violence were more or less motivated to complete the survey, the results could be skewed.

When talking about a number like 20%, even a good margin of error can have a large impact. The margin of error for these questions was +/- 2.2%. That means the true percentage of students who've experienced physical sexual violence most likely falls somewhere between 17.8% and 22.2%. According to those percentages, the actual number of physical sexual violence victims at W&M could range from 1,564 to 1,951 individuals. (back to top)

 

When will you administer this survey again?

We were especially encouraged that the Virginia Governor's Task Force on Combating Campus Sexual Violence had recommended that "a uniform campus climate survey to be administered once every two years by each institution during the fall semester." To date, a uniform survey for Virginia institutions has not been developed. Once institutions are systematically administering a common survey, we will be in a better position to examine our own W&M data over time, as well as to compare data across and among institutions. Until the common survey is developed, we will continue to administer the modified AAU survey every two years.  The next administration is scheduled for the spring 2019 semester. (back to top)