UO survey on sexual victimization issues highlights need to increase awareness of available services

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A new survey on sexual victimization issues at the University of Oregon reaffirms previous findings that there is a need to increase awareness about available services, while decreasing negative perceptions of institutional support.

Psychology professor Jennifer Freyd provided preliminary findings of the UO survey at the 20th International Summit & Training on Violence, Abuse & Trauma during a keynote session on "Campus Sexual Assault: Current Research and Prevention Approaches."

New issues also surfaced among the key findings of the 2015 survey -- one of four pilot studies being done in a national effort by the Administrator Researcher Campus Climate Collaboration, or ARC3, that involves 20 U.S. university campuses. The UO survey also incorporated data on several issues not covered under ARC3.

While women seeking graduate degrees were at lower risk of non-consensual sexual contact than women seeking undergraduate degrees (8 percent vs. 20 percent), female graduate students were at significantly higher risk of experiencing harassment-related events from faculty or staff than were undergraduate women (38 percent vs. 28 percent).

Women seeking law degrees also reported more harassment-related events from fellow students and from faculty and staff than graduate students pursuing master's degrees and doctorates in other fields.

At the UO, 1,334 students -- including 501 undergraduate and 324 graduate-level women -- completed the online 2015 survey that closely mirrored a survey of 982 undergraduates in 2014. The new survey included 539 graduate students.

Fifty-two percent of 795 undergraduates who completed the 2015 survey were "not at all" aware that the UO had Title IX officers to handle complaints about sexual issues; 50 percent did not know a bias-response team existed. There also was lack of awareness about student legal services (39 percent) and sexual assault support services (33 percent).

"These numbers suggest a need for more education so students know about services that are available to them," Freyd said. "Efforts have been made, but these efforts need to be more engaging and pertinent to students so they don't tune out."

"I am grateful that Jennifer Freyd has done research to provide us with important insight into this pressing matter," said UO President Michael H. Schill. "While the results do not surprise me and are not inconsistent with data from other universities that does not mean that they are acceptable. To the contrary, any amount of sexual violence on campus is too much. I look forward to analyzing the data and working with our faculty, administrators and students to combat the problem."

Findings involving women students in the law school came as a surprise and need further examination to see if the responses are similar at other law schools or just reflective of the UO school, Freyd said. Twenty-nine of the 35 women law students surveyed (83 percent) experienced harassment-related events from other students and 20, or 57 percent, from faculty and staff.

"I am aware our sample from the law school is small and that these results are preliminary, but the results are statistically significant," Freyd said. "I don't know if anyone has done this comparison at the graduate level. We didn't expect this. Initially, the graduate findings for sexual violence raised few concerns."

The 2015 UO survey repeated many of the same questions as on the previous version, but it also incorporated positive factors students experienced and more questions about institutional response and betrayal.

Other key 2015 findings from Freyd's team, which included graduate students Marina Rosenthal, Carly Smith, Alec Smidt and Jennifer Gomez, were:

  • One in five undergraduate women reported being victims of attempted or completed unwanted contact or penetration. Compared to 2014, there was a decline, from 35 percent to 28 percent, in the reporting of attempted and completed physical sexual contact.
  • Perceptions of 11 scenarios about institutional reactions to sexual violence were low. Just 36 percent of undergraduates felt it was likely that the institution would provide such supports as academic, housing or safety accommodations for victims. Sixty percent were confident that the UO would take a report seriously and that it would maintain privacy for the victim.

  • Sixty-seven percent of undergraduate women felt safe from dating violence, 48 percent from sexual violence, 52 percent from stalking and 42 percent from sexual harassment. Similar trends were found among female graduate students.

"To me, these numbers are tragic," Freyd said. "There is a huge cost in feeling unsafe. Women are bearing this cost all the time. It's using up mental space and emotional resources. It reduces the resources that they have available for other activities. We know that people who have these experiences of victimization and especially those who felt institutional betrayal tend to disengage."


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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