Princeton releases survey findings on inappropriate sexual behavior

A recent survey of Princeton University students found a sizeable majority knows where to go on campus for help following an incident of nonconsensual sexual contact, and nearly half of the students surveyed think they can do something about sexual violence on campus.

Those were among the many findings of the report "We Speak: Attitudes on Sexual Misconduct at Princeton University." The report follows last spring's We Speak Survey, which asked undergraduate and graduate students about their knowledge and experiences of inappropriate sexual behavior (commonly referred to as sexual misconduct), as well as students' awareness of University policies, procedures and resources.

The confidential Web-based survey was available to enrolled undergraduate and graduate students March 24-April 20, and was completed by 52 percent of the nearly 8,000 students. The study's findings will help inform University programming to address and prevent issues related to inappropriate sexual behavior and to provide a safe and supportive campus environment.

The University designed the survey in consultation with the Faculty-Student Committee on Sexual Misconduct to meet the specific needs of the campus community and to reflect the comprehensive scope of Princeton's policies to address inappropriate sexual behavior. The survey collected information about a broad range of inappropriate sexual behaviors, including sexual harassment and stalking, during the 2014-15 academic year.

During that time, about 20 percent of Princeton students said they experienced some form of inappropriate sexual behavior. Inappropriate sexual behavior could include one or more of the following: nonconsensual sexual contact (commonly described as sexual assault); stalking; abusive intimate relationships; and sexual harassment. Nonconsensual sexual contact could include: nonconsensual sexual touching; nonconsensual sexual penetration (commonly referred to as rape); nonconsensual sexual contact that was attempted but not completed; and suspected sexual contact that had occurred while a person was incapacitated.

Distinctions were found between the experiences of Princeton undergraduate and graduate students, as well as among undergraduate women, undergraduate men, graduate women and graduate men. The study did not find significant differences in the risk of experiencing inappropriate sexual behavior based on class year or where students lived on campus.

The 20 percent of students who experienced inappropriate sexual behavior included 34 percent of undergraduate women, 14 percent of undergraduate men, 19 percent of graduate student women and 6 percent of graduate student men. Overall, 13 percent of students experienced some form of nonconsensual sexual contact (with the highest percentage being 27 percent of undergraduate women), and overall 4 percent experienced nonconsensual sexual penetration (including 8 percent of undergraduate women). In many cases, students said they and/or the other person had been using alcohol, drugs or both at the time of the incident.

Most undergraduate and graduate students indicated interest in helping to prevent inappropriate sexual behavior or supporting someone who had experienced nonconsensual sexual contact. While more undergraduates than graduate students knew of University resources and reporting processes, many students said they were unsure of how to directly intervene in a situation. The finding supports campus efforts, such as the recently launched UMatter initiative, to equip students to become effective bystanders and make healthy choices.

While the survey found that 80 percent of all students were aware of campus resources such as University Health Services and Public Safety, some students who experienced nonconsensual sexual contact said they did not tell anyone about the incident. When asked why they had not told anyone, the top two reasons cited were that they did not think it was serious enough to share or they felt it was a private matter to deal with on their own.

Of those who did tell someone about an incident of nonconsensual sexual contact, undergraduates were more likely to share their experience than graduate students. Most students said they told a close friend, roommate or both, while a lower percentage of students told someone at the University, such as staff at the Sexual Harassment/Assault Advising, Resources and Education (SHARE) office or a counselor at Counseling and Psychological Services (CPS). SHARE and CPS are among the various University resources available to students.

Princeton plans to re-administer the We Speak Survey this academic year and in the 2017-18 year.

Questions and comments about the report should be directed to the Faculty-Student Committee on Sexual Misconduct, which is co-chaired by Professor of English Deborah Nord and Vice Provost for Institutional Equity and Diversity Michele Minter. The committee will conduct open meetings to hear from members of the University community about the report and to solicit suggestions about how to act on it. The meetings will be held at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 30, in McCosh Hall, Room 10, and noon Friday, Oct. 2, in McCormick Hall, Room 101. The report also will be discussed at the Council of the Princeton University Community (CPUC) meeting at 4:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 12, in Friend Center, Room 101.

In a letter to all students, faculty and staff, President Christopher L. Eisgruber said that the findings "demonstrate that too many of our students, classmates, and friends have been victims of sexual misconduct and violence on this campus. They also underscore the urgent need for all of us to do more. We must create a climate in which all members of our community respect and care for one another; we must provide students with the information they need to get help and support if they are the victims of misconduct; and we must ensure that our disciplinary processes are fair, effective, and compassionate."

He cited a "need to take further steps to prevent inappropriate behavior and to reduce the incidence of all forms of sexual misconduct" and called on all members of the campus community to "do something to change the campus climate, to change our expectations about how we behave toward each other, to intervene when appropriate, and to suggest policies and programs that can make a positive difference."

He concluded, "I am eager to hear the further recommendations of the Nord-Minter committee as well as the suggestions of other members of our community, and to act on ideas that will improve the climate and culture on this campus."