Student Voices on Sexual Violence: Overview of Selected Survey Results from the University Sector

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69.4%

Prevalence rate of sexual harassment on Laurier’s campus

Perpetrators across universities

were other students (64.7%)

had gender identity noted as male (81.3%)

32%

Prevalence rate of sexual assault on Laurier’s campus

27.2%

Prevalence rate of stalking on Laurier’s campus

Perpetrators across universities

were other students (47.1%)

had gender identity noted as male (83.3%)

Context of sexual assault experience

Methods of coercion associated with non-consensual sexual experiences in universities

59.9%

catching you off-guard or ignoring body language

41.6%

taking advantage of you when you were intoxicated, asleep or unconscious

38.4%

any other means when you said or showed you didn’t want to

29.8%

showing displeasure, criticising attractiveness or sexuality or getting angry

22.4%

telling lies, threatening to end the relationship or spread rumours, false promises or continuous pressure

17.8%

>using force (e.g. pinning down your arms or threatening the use of a weapon)

6.2%

threatening to physically harm you or someone else

The referenced Maclean’s article can be found here.

The study, “Student Voices on Sexual Violence”, can be downloaded here.

Canadian universities, and post-secondary institutions across the world, are being faced with increasing criticism and scrutiny surrounding the prevalence and subsequent treatment of sexual violence on their campuses.

In a Maclean’s article entitled “Canadian universities are failing students on sexual assault,” dozens of survivors were interviewed regarding the routine abandonment of victims from universities across the country.

Sexual and gendered violence on campuses are often overlooked and inadequately addressed, while vulnerable students are left to deal with the consequences in silence and with lacking procedures put in place.

As well, a two-year study into the various forms of sexual assault on university campuses in Ontario, entitled “Student Voices on Sexual Violence,” surveyed 117,148 students across the province, and has recently released their findings.

The study is categorized by various tables, including prevalence of sexual assault occurrences (“university students responding to the survey [who] indicated that they experienced sexual assault since the start of the 2017-2018 academic year”); methods of coercion involved in non-consensual experiences (e.g. ignoring body language, taking advantage while under the influence, anger or use of physical force, etc.); and sexual harassment and stalking experience rates.

However, the study also included some more potentially optimistic data, including the level of helpfulness from university staff, faculty, and administration when these experiences were reported; how students perceived consent, such as when it should be given, and various ways it can be revoked; and how universities are providing knowledge, support, and resources regarding sexual violence on (and off) campuses.

It also included data on gender identity, with 69.3 per cent (approx. two-thirds) of students identifying as a woman or girl, 28.9 per cent (approx. one-third) identifying as a man or boy and 1.8 per cent identifying as transgender, Two-Spirit, non-binary or gender fluid.

One of the most immediately recognizable data points on the survey was that Wilfrid Laurier University had one of the highest reported rates of sexual assault on and off-campus.

Laurier ranked 32 per cent, indicating that nearly one in three university students reported an instance of sexual assault in the previous year.

The survey included a number of types of non-consensual sexual assault in this report, including “being fondled or kissed, attempted oral or penetrative sex, and oral or penetrative sex.”

Compared to other universities, Laurier ranked third out of twenty in this category, with only Algoma University (32.2 per cent) and the University of Western Ontario (32.4 per cent) being ranked higher.

One of the most immediately recognizable data points on the survey was that Wilfrid Laurier University had one of the highest reported rates of sexual assault on and off-campus.

However, one of the two most important categories in this data set included patterns among perpetrators, timing and location of non-consensual events.

Among perpetrators of sexual assault, students indicated that 49.5 per cent were “another student” and 46 per cent were someone unaffiliated with the university. While minor, it is also important to note that 4 per cent of perpetrators were indicated as being someone directly employed by or affiliated with the university, such as a faculty member, administrator, instructor, coach, or an “other person.”

The most frequent times for these events to happen included just before classes began in the fall semester (18 per cent), during the first two weeks of classes (12 per cent) and during weeks 2 and 6 of the semester (20 per cent).

It is also very important to note that almost 4 out of 5 “unwanted experiences” — 79.8 per cent — occurred in an “off-campus setting not affiliated with their university”, while 20.3 per cent — one out of 5 events — occurred on-campus.

Among the two highest reported methods for coercion involved in non-consensual experiences included being caught off guard or “ignoring … body language or non-verbal signals” (59.9 per cent), and being taken advantage of while drunk, under the influence of drugs, asleep or unconscious (41.6 per cent).

Regarding sexual harassment, Laurier also ranks relatively high on the scale — 69.4 per cent of students reported at least one incidence in the last year — placing them fourth out of twenty universities (with the University of Western Ontario ranked the highest, at 71.6 per cent).

When discussing sexual harassment, the percentage of perpetrators in these instances was even more skewed towards being done by “other students,” which was 64.7 per cent of the total reported.

Further, significantly higher instances of sexual harassment were reported as taking place on university campuses, as the survey indicated that 47.2 per cent of events happened on-campus, while 55.9 per cent happened off-campus (a 26.9 per cent increase in on-campus instances when compared to sexual assault).

Respondents who identify bisexual, gay or lesbian, or students with another sexually diverse identity [were found to be] higher than the sector rate for all three forms of sexual violence.

The survey also made sure to discuss particularly vulnerable groups in the context of cases of sexual violence.

For example, “respondents who identify bisexual, gay or lesbian, or students with another sexually diverse identity [were found to be] higher than the sector rate for all three forms of sexual violence.”

As well, students who identified as having a disability also experienced higher rates of reported occurrence for all three categories (sexual assault, harassment and stalking).

Students who were between the ages of 21-25, or 21 and under, experienced higher rates of these events occurring, while those over the age of 35 were found to have experienced lower rates of the three categories.

One of the more concerning pieces of data on the survey included responses to sexual violence: 35.6 of participants did not tell someone about their experience, while about 46.5 per cent did.

The overwhelming majority of students also reported these events to a friend, family member or roomate (97.8 per cent), while just 9.4 per cent reported them to an official “such as a staff member at the sexual violence Council of Ontario Universities centre, university therapist, or other university staff,” indicating a noteable gap in the research.

Among the biggest reasons students chose not to tell a university representative included the official believing that it was not serious enough (50.7 per cent), the student “not needing any help” (32.3 per cent), not wanting any official action taken (24.8 per cent), not wanting to cause trouble (26.7 per cent) and being too embarrassed to report it (15 per cent).

In terms of support for those who have experienced, or want to report an instance of sexual assault, harassment or stalking, the survey noted that the most helpful university officials included “university sexual violence centre staff” (58.9 per cent, with 555 reports), “resident advisor or residence life staff” (52.8 per cent, with 426 reports) and “university counsellor or therapist” (52.5 per cent, with 1381 reports).

Education and awareness were also a significant part of the survey, including data regarding activities and processes that students were involved in or participated in to educate them about sexual violence and assault; demographics of those who discussed sexual violence with friends or family, including gender, sexual orientation and those who do/do not have a disability; and awareness of institutional supports or resources.

Overall, the survey concluded that “Ontario universities are committed to providing a safe, supportive and respectful environment for all members of campus communities. These results are important as universities work to understand student experiences, enhance prevention and awareness programs, and ensure access to supports for those affected by sexual violence.”

David McMurray, Laurier’s vice-president: student affairs, commented on the results of the survey, and the measures that Laurier has been implementing to address sexual violence.

“First of all, we really want to thank our students, for the ones who took the time to fill out the survey: we’re very, very appreciative of that. Because we really welcome the results of this survey, we know that it’s a societal, systemic problem, worldwide,” McMurray said.

“In my time, we’ve been committed to doing all that we can to not only support survivors, but to provide more preventative measures, education, [and] awareness, to help change attitudes and reduce the prevalence of gendered and sexual violence.”

“In my advocacy with this sector, we asked for this kind of approach. In 2012, we actually conducted our own survey called ‘The Change Project’ … and the results of that survey gave us ten recommendations to move forward on new policy, new programs, and extended levels of support for survivors,” he said.

According to the description on Laurier’s website, “the Social Innovation Research Group (SIRG) was hired to coordinate The Change Project, a collaboration between the Sexual Assault Support Centre of Waterloo Region (SASC), the SIRG, the Centre for Women and Trans People*, the UW Women’s Centre, the Diversity and Equity Office at Laurier, Wilfrid Laurier University and the University of Waterloo.”

“The seeds of this project grew out of a campus-community committee to address gendered violence that was struck at Laurier several years ago as a result of concerns about gendered violence on campus,” McMurray said.

McMurray noted that Laurier is committed to working on the ongoing problem of sexual and gendered violence and hopes to further the education and resources that the university has already put into place.

“So now, next steps: we’ve got to undertake a really detailed review and analysis of the data because it’s so extensive, and we need professional, qualified scholars and practitioners to do that — so that’s been done and overseen by [Laurier’s sexual violence response coordinator] Sarah Scanlon.”

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