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How Are AAU Schools Dealing with Sexual Assault?

New report details actions—including those at BU

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In the two years since a national survey of students at Association of American Universities (AAU) schools indicated that nearly one in four undergraduate women had been sexually assaulted by force or when they were incapacitated, several actions and improvements have been taken by the member universities, according to a comprehensive report published yesterday by the association. BU is one of the 62 leading research universities across the country that make up the AAU.

The AAU Campus Activities Report: Combating Sexual Assault and Misconduct is based on the results of a new survey of the association’s members. It follows a 2015 campus climate survey conducted by the AAU—as well as a separate questionnaire distributed at BU—that revealed disturbing numbers of nonconsensual sexual contact and threats of physical force. Mary Sue Coleman, president of the AAU, says the new report is intended to help member universities combat sexual assault and sexual misconduct by providing data and examples of efforts by peer institutions to prevent assaults.

The report’s key findings:

– Over the last three academic years, all 55 institutions that responded to the survey have developed, refined, or enhanced programs to assist victims of sexual assault and misconduct.

– At least once since 2013, all responding institutions have surveyed students on issues related to sexual assault and misconduct.

– 87 percent of responding institutions indicated that surveys or data from surveys stimulated new, or changed existing, conversations with students about sexual assault and misconduct.

– Over the last three academic years, 100 percent of responding institutions have changed or are in the process of changing their education and training for students and faculty.

– Over the three last academic years, 84 percent of responding institutions have developed new programs, education, or interventions for specific student populations or types of students.

– More than 90 percent of responding institutions reported increasing resources over the last three academic years in three categories: victim support, student training, and faculty and staff training.

“I think one of the important things about this report is that it once again puts sexual misconduct at the forefront and gets people’s attention,” says Maureen Mahoney, director of the University’s Sexual Assault Response & Prevention Center (SARP). “The report gives us a good baseline, because one of the things that really moves change on an administrative level is data. Administrators look to, and try to stay in line with, what our peer institutions are doing.”

BU’s progress

The new report includes several specific actions and programs that BU has undertaken to prevent and address sexual assault and sexual misconduct on campus.

In the University’s 2015 Sexual Misconduct Climate Survey—which measured students’ perceptions of sexual violence at BU and was intended to guide the University’s efforts to improve its response to sexual assault—one in six students said they had experienced at least one form of sexual assault victimization as a BU student. That number was consistent with reports from other campuses and with national estimates. Students with nonbinary gender identity, undergraduates, and students who had been sexually assaulted consistently said they did not feel as supported and protected by the administration, faculty, and staff as other students do. (See more results from the survey here.)

Sophie Godley (SPH’17), a School of Public Health clinical assistant professor of community health sciences, and a Sexual Misconduct Climate Survey Task Force member, says the survey taught the University several lessons.

“The big picture overall, unfortunately, is that we aren’t different from any other university that has been facing these issues,” she says. “The issue of sexual assault is present on our campus and it is present in the mind of our students. It is a concern for all of us.”

One advantage that BU had over other schools, Godley says, was that an office for responding to and preventing sexual assault already existed. “We were able to feed survey information right to SARP, and they were able to integrate that additional information about BU’s climate right into their programming.”

The AAU survey drew attention to several of the programs BU has in place. Among those programs:

• The College of Arts & Sciences offers first year students a one-credit elective course (FY101) that includes programming on healthy consent and communication.

• BU has several counseling support groups for victims of sexual assault. These include specific groups for students who have experienced a sexual assault, students who have been in a controlling or abusive relationship, and students who have been assaulted in their field placement (i.e., students involved in social work or archaeology).

• New and existing cases of sexual assault are reviewed on a weekly basis by the Title IX coordinator, Judicial Affairs, and the Dean of Students office, which discuss interim measures and potential complaint outcomes.

• BU uses the judicial database software tool Advocate, which can collect student conduct statistics and Clery data and share information across offices.

Mahoney says that while there is no required prevention programing, about 1,400 students each year attend the University’s primary prevention program, Step Up Step In BU (SUSIBU), which teaches proactive bystander skills and is evidence-based. SUSIBU “talks about intersectionality, racism, and homophobia, which all contribute to a culture that allows sexual misconduct and gender-based violence to exist,” Mahoney says. “The climate survey told us that students want to intervene, but they don’t know how. So we give them tips on how to do it safely.”

Sexual Misconduct Climate Survey Task Force cochair Kenneth Elmore (SED’87), associate provost and dean of students, credits SARP with increasing the number of outreach sessions and points out that the University has worked with the One Love Foundation, which encourages students to think about relationship violence. He says faculty and staff are obligated to report incidents of sexual misconduct to the University’s Title IX coordinator.

Survey task force cochair Peter Fiedler (COM’77), BU vice president for administrative services, echoes a well-documented concern: that victims of sexual assault do not always report the crime for reasons such as fear of retribution or embarrassment. Last year, eight rapes on BU property were reported to the BUPD, as well as four indecent assaults, says Peter Shin, an officer with the BUPD Crime Analysis Unit. According to SARP’s 2015–2016 annual report, during that school year 74 students came to the center for help after being sexually assaulted. “Reporting is absolutely critical,” Fiedler says, adding that this summer the University plans to issue another survey about sexual misconduct and to reconvene the task force.

Fiedler says many BU police officers have taken the intensive Sexual Assault Investigator Certification Training program run by the commonwealth’s Municipal Police Training Committee. The program is cotaught by a law enforcement officer and a rape crisis advocate, which reflects an indispensable multidisciplinary approach to sexual assault cases.

Godley says that while not perfect, things are improving. “One of the reasons why I think this issue is so challenging is that it is very difficult to gauge whether we have been able to change the climate,” she says. “That’s a tough question. But as a faculty member, separate from my work with the committee, I feel like I have been offered many opportunities in the last year to become more involved and get more educated, and that’s awesome.”

Student victims of any crime, including sexual assault or domestic violence, are urged to seek help from any of the many crisis intervention, counseling, and student services available to them, both on campus and in the community. Crisis intervention counselors are available through the Sexual Assault Response & Prevention Center 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, at 617-353-7277. Students may also call the BU Police Department at 617-353-2121 or the Dean of Students office at 617-353-4126 for assistance. Employees needing help may contact the Faculty & Staff Assistance office at 617-353-5381 or email to fsao@bu.edu.

2 Comments
Amy Laskowski

Amy Laskowski can be reached at amlaskow@bu.edu.

2 Comments on How Are AAU Schools Dealing with Sexual Assault?

  • Andrew Wolfe on 04.27.2017 at 10:52 am

    Thirty-five years ago, as I was entering college, the attitude towards sex among students was purposely changed in higher ed administration from dissuasion and moral reproach to openly condoning it. Randy males were excused and willing females were supported with contraception and abortion. “Sexually active,” which started as a disingenous euphemism for “promiscuous,” became an expected normal of everyone male and female. As my daughters were growing up, I could see they were entering colleges at a social and sexual disadvantage every bit as bad as their grandmother’s in the 1950’s. How many otherwise unwilling and self-respecting female students feel they have to “put out” sexual favors in order to hold onto a romantic relationship? Sexual assault starts with morally dead low expectations of student behavior.

    • CAITLIN CUSHMAN on 05.01.2017 at 1:58 pm

      Interest in or willingness to engage in consensual sex is to sexual assault as breathing is to being choked to death.

      The disadvantage to your daughters is caused by the same patriarchal subjugation your grandmothers suffered. It’s not the autonomy that’s the problem. It’s the disregard for the personhood of women.

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