Survey on campus attitudes towards sexual assault closes tonight

A campus-wide survey intended to help inform potential changes to the College’s sexual assault prevention and response program will close tonight.

As of Feb. 9, 63 percent of the student body, 1359 students, had responded to the survey, which opened on Jan. 27. The Dean of the College’s Office plans to make public the measures used in the survey along with the raw data collected once it is closed.

The last available data for the College regarding sexual assault comes from the 2011 National College Health Assessment (NHCA) Survey, a lengthy survey on general health at college, which about 1000 students responded to at the time. Meg Bossong ’05, director of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response, said the College was due for another round of surveying and wanted to take the opportunity to collect more data than the NCHA survey, which only asks students whether or not they have experienced any form of sexual assault or harassment in the last year.

“The goal was to develop a survey which would help us not just get better prevalence data but also help us do more towards improving our prevention programming and informing our response systems, so we have a lot of goals for the data,” Bossong said. “We combined several validated tools and worked with a consortium of different colleges at the outset, but this is a Williams specific survey that we worked to develop with items you wouldn’t find on the standard national survey.”

The Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Committee, The Rape and Sexual Assault Network and Men for Consent helped design the survey.

The NCHA survey was useful in that, because many colleges use it, it allowed the Dean’s Office to compare the Williams-specific data to that of peer colleges. In that survey, 19.2 percent of females and 3.8 percent of males at Williams reported experiencing unwanted sexual touching in the last 12 months, compared to rates of 7.4 percent and 3.1 percent, respectively, on average at peer colleges and universities. Females reported experiencing attempted unwanted sexual penetration at a rate of 9.9 percent, while one percent of males reported experiencing it, comparted to average rates of 3.2 percent for females and 0.8 percent for males at peer schools. Females and males at Williams reported completed unwanted sexual penetration 4.4 percent of the time and 0.3 percent of the time, respectively, while the average at peer schools was 1.9 percent for females and 0.6 percent for males.

“I think those numbers were incredibly surprising,” Bossong said. “In nearly every category we were notably higher than our peers, and I think that really sparked a lot of the work of the last couple years. The Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Committee and the creation of my position certainly stemmed from that.”

Bossong hopes that the current survey will not only reveal how those numbers have changed but also provide insight into students’ attitudes about sexual assault and the campus support services in order to improve response and prevention. For that reason, the survey includes questions on topics such as what students see and hear on campus that is related to sexual assault, their impressions of the services available from the College and local resources and their own attitudes and behaviors regarding sexual assault. The survey will also provide the first available data regarding dating violence and abuse as well as stalking, areas which Bossong suspects the College may need to give more attention. She hopes that discussions with smaller focus groups throughout the spring semester will fill in the gaps in the survey, particularly about more nuanced issues like what appropriate sanctions for violators of the College’s sexual assault policy should be.

Bossong did not want to speculate on what changes would be made to the College’s programs and policies before seeing the results of the survey. She is particularly interested to see if people are aware of what services the College already provides and whether or not students find them acceptable. If not, subsequent work will focus on advertising programs that are underutilized, improving ones that are not acceptable, then adding new programming where necessary.

“The two areas that we’re most concerned with are prevention and response. Ultimately our goal is that no one experiences this [sexual assault] on campus. Short of that, we need to make sure that our response process is accessible, equitable and transparent.”