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Survey: 48% of female undergrad respondents said they were sexually assaulted during time at Duke

A “startling” Duke survey taken in 2016 reported that 40 percent of undergraduate women had been sexually assaulted since coming to the University. The survey was re-administered two years later, and the results were released to the public Thursday night. 

Now, 47.8 percent of women who responded said they had been sexually assaulted while they were students at Duke. In addition to nearly half of female undergraduates saying they have been sexually assaulted, 13.5 percent of male students said they have been during their time at Duke.

The survey defined sexual assault as “any unwanted, nonconsensual sexual contact,” including rape and sexual battery, but excluding coerced sexual contact and sexual harassment.

The “confidential, web-based” survey was conducted between March 27, 2018 and May 18, 2018 through a contract between Duke and RTI International, which is an independent nonprofit institution. It was sent to every undergraduate and graduate student at Duke who was older than 18 years, and 6,782 responded—resulting in a response rate of 40 percent. 

Breaking down the sexual assault numbers for undergraduates

The survey dove deeper than ascertaining the percentage of students who said they were sexually assaulted.

Female students with disabilities or who identified as lesbian, gay and bisexual (GLB) had higher rates of sexual assault. More than 56 percent of female students with disabilities and 49.7 percent of GLB women reported experiencing sexual assault since enrolling at Duke, compared to 45.7 percent of women without disabilities and 45.6 percent of heterosexual women.

Male respondents also reported higher rates in those categories, with 23 percent of men with disabilities and 27.5 percent of GLB male students reporting assaults, compared to 12.5 percent of men without disabilities and 11 percent of heterosexual men.

As for the location of incidents, female students reported that more of the assaults occurred off campus and male students reported that more happened on campus. 

“For both male and female students, well over half of sexual assault incidents involved drug or alcohol use on the part of the perpetrator and/or the victim,” the report stated. 

Within the category of sexual assault, 17 percent of undergraduate women responded that they had been raped during their time at Duke and 3 percent of undergraduate men said they had.

Comparing the numbers 

“When the 40 percent figure was reported back in the 2016 survey, I was traumatized by it. For two reasons: one, you have the national ‘one in five,’ 20 percent figure out there, and two, it was just an extraordinarily high number,” Larry Moneta, vice president for student affairs, said. “We immediately jumped on it, in terms of convening a group of people to figure out what it would take to bring the problems down.”

Two years later, Moneta said he thinks the number is actually higher than what the survey shows. 

“I’ve known the 48 percent figure for a few weeks, and I’ve had a lot of conversations with students and I said, ‘Let me just ask you, if you talk to any undergraduate women here, what percent of undergraduate women across four years have some incident of unwanted kissing, or some incident where someone deliberately brushed by them in a way that made them uncomfortable, touched them in a way that was inappropriate, whether it was on the dance floor or a party? What percentage of Duke undergraduate women have an experience like that in four years?’” Moneta said. “The consensus answer I got was between 80 and 90 percent.”

Moneta said that, based on data they have seen from the Association of American Universities, he does not think Duke is out of line from its peers.

Perceptions of campus safety and Duke’s handling of sexual assault

Nearly all students reported feeling safe on campus, but less than half of female undergraduates in the survey’s most recent edition said that Duke was doing a good job of preventing sexual assault. This was reported in the survey conducted in 2016 as well.

Whereas 48 percent of undergraduate female respondents in the 2018 survey said Duke was doing a good job—a 2 percent increase from last time—65 percent of male undergraduate respondents said it was, 78 of female graduate students said it was and 85 of male graduate students said it was. 

“Students at all levels generally regarded faculty and university leadership as concerned with student safety, but a sizable percentage of undergraduate women in particular continue to feel that the university leadership could be doing more to protect the safety of students generally, and more than half of undergraduate women continue to feel that Duke is not doing a good job of preventing sexual assault in particular,” the report stated.

Although less than half of undergraduate women said Duke was doing a good job, 62 percent said that Duke was “doing all it can” and 75 percent said the University was concerned for students’ safety. 

Overall, students said they feel safe on campus. 98 percent of male undergraduate students said they felt safe, 89 percent of female undergraduates said they did and more than 90 percent of both male and female graduate students said they did. 

There is a gender gap among undergraduates’ opinions about whether Duke enables sexual assault victims to continue their education without interacting with the perpetrator. Whereas 70 percent of men said that Duke did that in the 2018 survey, 45 percent of women said that. 

Another gender gap was shown in perceptions of whether Duke takes sexual assault cases seriously—and the rates have remained the exact same among undergraduates between the survey administrations. Seventy-seven percent of male undergraduates think Duke takes the cases seriously, whereas 58 percent of female undergraduates said that. 

Students’ opinions on Duke’s adjudication process for sexual assault show differences in perceptions based on gender for several categories. Whereas 57 percent of male undergraduates said Duke properly investigates sexual assault, 38 percent of female undergraduates agreed. Similarly, there was more than a 22 percentage-point gap in opinions on whether Duke holds people accountable for sexual assault and a 23 percentage point gap in whether students who are found responsible are punished appropriately. 

More than 60 percent of both male and female undergraduates said that students who are accused of sexual assault are treated fairly. 

For sexual assaults of undergraduate women that occurred in the 2017-2018 school year, approximately 9 percent were officially reported and 62 percent were disclosed to family, friends or roommates, according to the survey.

“One thing we don’t want to do is sugar coat the challenges for a survivor to have to go through a conduct process. It is extraordinarily difficult, to recount the incident to strangers...Even with all the protections we can offer, there is nothing to suggest that is painless,” Moneta said. “That said, that doesn’t mean that we don’t see that data as challenges to continue to figure out how to inspire victims to bring the cases forward, because those challenges themselves chill participation.” 

Those challenges may get even more difficult due to politics. 

“We know the proposed rules changes in the [Secretary of Education] Betsy DeVos administration would make it even more difficult,” Moneta said.

Other points in the report

  • The report highlights a number of resources Duke has created to aid students, including required training for all incoming students, Alcohol EDU, party monitors, PACT bystander intervention training and more. 
  • The largest number of sexual assaults for undergraduate women at Duke occurred in August, September and October, and first-year students reported more assaults than other years during months. 
  • Moneta said he is briefing the Board of Trustees on the report at their meeting tomorrow. 

Read the full report below. 

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