Survey shows majority of students think sexual assault is ‘significant problem’ at UNT
A survey of 291 UNT students found more than half believe sexual assault to be a significant problem at the university. The survey also showed a majority of students did not feel safe in the area around campus after dark.
The survey was conducted in November and December of 2016. Responses were anonymous, and participants were provided with a definition of sexual assault after they provided their opinions on scenario-based questions.
Advertising professor Sarah Champlin was one of the architects of the survey.
“Our survey is a place to start,” Champlin said. “We want to just continue to make sure that we’re understanding the situation that’s unfolding.”
The survey looked at perceptions from less than 1 percent of the student body, and is not intended to be representative of the entire UNT population. But the data collected provides a starting point to look at what issues UNT students think require more attention.
Many students felt sexual assault is a significant problem at UNT
When asked about their perception of sexual assault at UNT, 51.2 percent of students agreed to some extent that it is a significant problem at the university. Nearly a third answered they were unsure.
UNT’s Title IX coordinator Inya Baye said the university is in a similar place to most institutions in the U.S.
“It’s definitely of concern and something that we’re working as an institution to address, not just because of the mandate federally, but also because we care about our students and we care about their experience,” she said.
Dean of Students Maureen McGuinness said the responses might also have something to do with the increase in awareness surrounding sexual assault on college campuses.
UNT police chief Ed Reynolds said the number doesn’t surprise him.
“I always have a concern about sexual assault on campus,” Reynolds said. “That will never change, because until we have none, that’s an issue.”
Two-thirds of students surveyed replied that UNT has adequate resources for survivors of sexual assault. However, when asked about whether students are informed about these resources, less than half of the participants agreed.
Baye said the matter of creating and promoting resources requires constant evaluation. To help this process, the university will be participating in an eight-university consortium led by Texas Woman’s University that aims to establish a “consistent, effective response to campus sexual assault.”
Most students surveyed didn’t feel safe near campus after dark — but most men did
When asked about their feeling of safety on campus after dark, 44.7 percent of students said they did not feel safe. When it came to the area surrounding campus, 65.6 percent of respondents said they did not feel safe.
By contrast, in a nationwide survey by the American College Health Association, 33.7 percent of students reported feeling very safe on their campus at night. The ACHA did not ask students the same question about the area near campus.
“Campuses are much safer than the city that surrounds them,” Reynolds said. He attributed the lack of feeling safe to a general societal norm rather than a fear specific to UNT.
The question did not ask for reasoning, McGuinness said, so this feeling might be attributed to lack of lighting, fear of attack by a stranger, or other reasons.
Sexual assault victims are much more likely to be assaulted by someone they know, and according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 80 percent of rape victims are acquainted with the perpetrator.
In evaluating student responses by gender, 39.5 percent of males said they feel unsafe in the area surrounding campus after dark, while 75.9 percent of females agreed.
Six of 6 non-binary participants said the same. A non-binary gender identity is one that does not fit the male-female binary.
Similarly, in the national survey above, looking at the numbers by gender showed that most men did feel very safe on campus at night, while less than a quarter of women felt the same way.
One of the better-known areas near campus, Fry Street, elicited a groan from McGuinness. Fry Street is known for its multiple bars and active party scene.
Though Baye said the university does not look at concerns by street, McGuinness noted that police may be asked to pay special attention to certain areas if they cause worry among university officials. Reynolds said police maintain an increased presence in the area during its busiest nights.
“Decisions about how to approach off campus are not made in isolation,” Baye said.
University officials work with UNT and Denton police to keep each other informed.
A majority of students correctly identified sexual assault scenarios, but not harassment
Survey participants were randomly provided with one of four scenarios and asked whether they considered the situation sexual assault. They were then asked to provide the reasoning behind their answers.
Two of the scenarios involved alcohol and non-consensual acts, specifying differing levels of consciousness and willingness from the victim, Katie. Nearly nine out of 10 students surveyed correctly identified the scenarios as sexual assault. Their comments on why they answered the way they did included:
“Sleeping over at someone’s house does not equal consent.”
“Katie was drunk. If someone is drunk, they cannot consent. Secondly, she was unconscious so there was no possible way for her to consent.”
Another scenario presented students with a male subject told to perform oral sex on another man to gain membership to a social organization. The subject completed the task because he would not be able to join the organization otherwise. Forced oral sex is considered sexual assault, and nearly four in five students classified it as such. Students explained their responses in the comments:
“Technically this is hazing and sexual assault. Promising acceptance into a group contingent upon sexual favors is sexual assault.”
“Garret was not physically forced, however, his desire to be part of a group was used in an extortive manner to “force” him into doing something sexual he may not have otherwise done. That’s rape.”
Respondents were less sure of their opinions when it came to sexual harassment in a scenario involving a man persistently flirting with his male server, Austin. More than one in four students thought the incident was sexual assault. 35.7 percent of students were unsure of how to classify the event, while only 37.1 percent correctly answered that the incident was not assault. Some of the reasoning from respondents included:
“The man continued to hit on Austin when he was clearly not interested and uncomfortable, but I’m not sure he was aggressive enough to warrant the term “sexual assault”.”
“If the man had asked multiple times and was making Austin uncomfortable it would be considered sexual assault.”
Most students remembered taking Haven course
A majority of survey participants said they remembered taking Haven, an online sexual assault education course that educates new undergraduates on consent, bystander intervention, supporting survivors and more.
McGuinness said she was “pleasantly happy” that a majority of students remembered taking the course.
Baye noted that one challenge for the university when educating students is figuring out how to keep up the flow of information to students who are already at UNT. In the survey, sophomores had the highest percentage of recall of Haven, while seniors had the lowest.
However, McGuinness was optimistic that Haven had taught students behaviors that encouraged them to prevent sexual misconduct in their first semester at UNT, setting the precedent for coming years.
More than a third of participants said that Haven had taught them things they did not know about sexual assault, while 24.1 percent said it had not.
McGuinness said these numbers showed a positive trend, indicating that students were coming to college with more knowledge of sexual violence.
SGA president Grant Hale, however, said he would have liked to see the numbers be higher. He also felt that the addition of another course for students to take later in their academic careers could help them retain the knowledge from Haven.
“I think some sort of mandatory refresher certainly would help, there’s no question about that,” he said.
Hale said he would like Haven to be mandatory as well, in the sense that there would be some penalty for students who did not complete it. There is currently no such penalty or hold, although the Dean of Students does call the course mandatory for new undergraduates.
How UNT compares to other Texas universities
In its most recent Clery report, UNT showed little change in the number of sexual violence crimes from previous years. The number of rapes decreased from 12 in 2014 to seven in 2015, but it is important to note that such fluctuation may not signal a trend.
Based on its Clery numbers from 2015, UNT has a much lower percentage of reported rapes than the University of Texas at Austin and Southern Methodist University, but higher than the University of Texas at Dallas, Texas Tech and Texas A&M. UNT’s number of reported rapes per thousand was 0.33, falling closest to Baylor University’s 0.31.
Clery numbers only include cases reported to either the university or the police, so they give no indication of how many unreported rapes occurred. Sometimes, this might mean institutions see an increase in Clery rapes as they improve the sexual assault reporting process and resources.
UNT is currently undergoing a Title IX investigation by the U.S. Department of Education. The investigation was opened in September 2016, and will review whether the university has proper policies in place to handle reports of sexual assault. Baye said the university’s Title IX office has not received any updates on the matter. Investigations take longer than a year on average.
Hale said the investigation is not an accurate representation of how the university handles reports of sexual misconduct.
“The fact that there is an investigation going on, and that there may have been instances in the past where due diligence was not given to violations of title IX, is concerning,” he said.
Initiatives in the works
As part of the consortium with other area universities, UNT plans to administer a campus-wide survey to gauge student perceptions about sexual misconduct, reactions to sexual misconduct, and available resources.
“It’s important not just for programming, but it’s also important for us to take our temperature,” Baye said. “Where are we as an institution?”
Baye emphasized the importance of this survey in helping the university target their programming and resources to where they are most needed.
The university rolled out an online sexual misconduct education course for full-time employees in December 2016, which Baye hopes to expand to include part-time employees as well.
McGuinness said she could guarantee that Haven would become more technology and app-oriented in the next few years, and said that the university would recommend adding scenarios in the course to take newer developments like Tinder, Snapchat and Lyft into account.
The Dean of Students and Title IX coordinator both expressed one sentiment repeatedly: that there is always more work to be done.
“We’re focused on not just resolving sexual assault situations but encouraging our students to think about sexual behavior in a completely different way,” Baye said. “Not just sexual misconduct, but even consensual sexual contact, how do you think about that in a way that’s affirming of another human being? Which is much more challenging than addressing sexual misconduct.”
Where to go for help
To access resources relating to sexual violence, contact the following offices or organizations:
UNT Survivor Advocate Renee LeClaire McNamara: email or 940-565-2648.
Denton County Friends of the Family 940-382-7273
If you’d like to share your story regarding any form of sexual misconduct, please contact Sarah Sarder at firstname.lastname@example.org. All communication is confidential, and you can choose to remain anonymous in any published material.
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