A report by the University of Michigan demonstrates just how important it is to conduct sexual assault climate surveys on college campuses in order to better focus an institution’s resources.
The University of Michigan publicized an internal survey of its students’ experiences with sexual misconduct. While the percentage of undergraduate women who had been touched, kissed, or penetrated without their consent was similar to other schools across the country (about 20%), 10% of the undergraduate female students said they experienced unwanted sexual conduct as a result of verbal pressure and/or coercion.
The survey defined verbal pressure to include “telling lies, threatening to end the relationship, threatening to spread rumors about them, showing displeasure, criticizing your sexuality or attractiveness, and getting angry.” Other examples of verbal pressure and coercion include egging someone on to engage in sexual activity, comments like “sex is the way to prove your love for me” or “if I don’t get sex from you I’ll get it somewhere else,” negative reactions when told “no,” blackmail, or exaggerated flattery.
Because of the high percentage of this category of assaults, the University has decided to focus training efforts on verbal pressure and expand its sexual relationship training to all grade levels. Holly Rider-Milkovich, director of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center at the University, believes that casting a wide net is necessary to understand all behavior that threatens students so that programs and initiatives can be focused on the specific needs of individual campuses. Rider-Milkovich believes the real need is “to change cultural expectations, so that sex is something people engage in when it is equally desired, not a goal that someone strives toward, regardless of objection.”
Anonymous sexual assault climate surveys, which were recommended by the White House in April of 2014, are designed to give a more realistic picture of what is happening on individual campuses. Conducting regular sexual assault climate surveys helps universities fill in knowledge gaps and narrows the scope of the problem so resources can be better applied. However, universities must also ensure the proper questions are being asked of its students. Various resources exist that provide checklists and best practices, sample questions, or even conduct surveys independently as third-parties.
As evidenced by the University of Michigan’s latest survey, engaging in conversation with students regarding sexual assault provides invaluable information an institution can then use to combat future sexual assaults on campus.