Rates of sexual violence at the University of Connecticut are lower than the most widely cited national average, according to the results of an independent survey released last week.
The survey, conducted by the Higher Education Data Sharing Consortium in November of 2015, asked more than 6,000 randomly selected undergraduate and graduate students at UConn up to 47 questions about the school’s general sexual climate, experiences of unwanted sexual contact, bystander behavior and assault reporting procedure. UConn has 31,624 students and 1,499 responded to the survey.
5.5 percent of respondents to questions about sexual assault reported that they had experienced a completed sexual assault, with 6.5 percent reporting that they had experienced an attempted sexual assault. Additionally, 2.6 percent of respondents said they suspected, but were not sure, that they were sexually assaulted. The National Institute of Justice’s most recent Campus Sexual Assault Survey — the source of the oft-cited “1-in-5” figure — reported in 2007 that 19.8 percent of college women experience either an attempted or completed sexual assault while enrolled at college.
Despite the markedly lower rates of assault, UConn administrators maintain that there is no cause for complacency.
“While our UConn results depict fewer incidents here than the national figures that are often reported, we must continue to do all we can to eliminate every single sexual assault and to increase awareness of sexual violence on our campuses,” UConn President Susan Herbst wrote to the campus on April 11.
UConn’s report listed types of unwanted verbal and physical interactions — such as unwelcome sexual advances and groping — as examples of behaviors that constitute sexual assault.
At UConn, 82 percent of respondents said they felt safe on campus and 57 percent said they believed fellow UConn students would intervene if they witnessed a sexual assault.
The results, Herbst wrote, “provide an important view into our students’ experiences with and perceptions about sexual violence at UConn.”
In some ways, UConn’s report stands in contrast to its New Haven neighbor.
After participating in a 27-school survey administered by the Association of American Universities, Yale released the results of its own climate survey on sexual misconduct in January.
In contrast to the 12.0 percent of UConn students who reported experiencing an attempted or completed sexual assault, 16.1 percent of all Yale respondents reported the same. More than 55 percent of respondents also reported experiencing at least one incident of sexual harassment since arriving at Yale.
Still, UConn Title IX Coordinator Elizabeth Conklin cautioned against comparing results from different surveys. She pointed out that the HEDS survey was not open to all students; rather, the survey was provided to a randomly selected group, of which 25 percent responded. Yale’s survey, in comparison, was open to any student enrolled at the University and saw a 51.8 percent response rate.
“We’re still analyzing and reviewing results, but we certainly realized that reported rates are lower than national averages,” Conklin told the News. “I felt like the results on ballots were representative with my experience of the cases I’ve seen in my time at UConn.”
Expressing confidence with the overall survey results, Conklin said HEDS will release the cumulative results of its survey in the fall of 2016.
This survey follows a tumultuous few years for UConn, the subject of a high-profile class action lawsuit in 2014. The university settled a $1.28 million lawsuit, in which well-known civil rights lawyer Gloria Allred fought for five women who claimed the university had not handled their claims of sexual assault and harassment appropriately.
Four of the plaintiffs also filed Title IX compliance suits with the federal Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, but suspended the complaints once the settlement was reached.
Any educational institution — public or private — that receives federal funding is required to comply with Title IX, a 1972 law that prohibits discrimination in colleges and universities on the basis of sex. Therefore, although UConn is a public university and six times the size of Yale, the two schools abide by the same standards laid out by the Office of Civil Rights.
UConn’s 2014 settlement also included a series of changes to university policy: the UConn police department formed a special victims unit comprised of officers trained in responding to sexual violence. Additionally, the university created the role of assistant dean of students for Victim Support Services and revised a training program intended to teach management-level employees how to deal with cases of sexual misconduct.
Since then, UConn has implemented a new university policy against discrimination, harassment and related interpersonal violence.
“[T]he policy more clearly identifies employee reporting obligations and the offices responsible for administering these issues on and off campus for both students and employees,” the policy’s frequently asked questions on the school’s Title IX website reads. “In particular, the new policy requires responsible employees to report to the university cases of stalking and intimate partner violence involving students, in addition to longer-standing sexual assault reporting requirements.”
UConn’s new policy went into effect on Jan. 1, 2016.
Caityln Wherry contributed reporting.