Sexual assault climate surveys reveal higher rates of violence than thought

Vanderbilt: 'We really wanted to look at the problem very directly'

A pair of climate surveys taken by Vanderbilt University students last spring revealed higher rates of sexual assault than the school's official tally.

Last spring, administrators asked students to take either a survey created by EAB or by EverFi.

See the EAB survey

Nearly 20% of students who took the EAB survey said they had been victims of sexual assault that school year. The other survey found about 10% of respondents "experienced unwanted sexual contact or attempted unwanted sexual contact as the result of physical force, the threat of physical force, or when they were unable to provide consent."            

Both surveys found sexual assault rates to be significantly higher than the 23 sexual assaults the school reported to the Education Department under the Clery Act, likely because that report had a narrower definition of sexual assault and was limited to on-campus crimes filed with certain school authorities. 

In the pair of surveys, some students said they did not notify administrators of their attacks because they were not sure they had actually been assaulted, and they feared judgement and blame if they filed a formal report. Additionally, only about one third of respondents indicated that they understood the "formal procedures" to file a report. 

The school released the survey findings to help start a discussion about sexual assault and improve prevention methods.

"We really wanted to look at the problem very directly, call it a problem, and work to find solutions," says Cynthia Cyrus, Vanderbilt's vice provost for learning and residential affairs.           

University leaders on a panel published several recommendations based on the survey, and administrators hosted a forum this week, encouraging faculty, students, and staff to make more suggestions (Tamburin, The Tennessean, 1/26). 

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