Why A College Survey Won't Improve The Sexual Assault Epidemic


On January 22, 2015, the Association of American Universities or, AUU, sent out a press release that acknowledged the participation of almost 30 universities in one of the largest surveys of sexual assault.

The reason for conducting said survey is to help each campus get a healthier perceptive of what’s happening within his or her own student body, as well as across the nation.

According to AAU President, Hunter Rawlings:

"Our first priority, and theirs, is to ensure that students not only are safe but feel safe. Universities will be using their data to inform their own policies and practices regarding sexual assault. "We also hope the survey will help policymakers gain a better understanding of the problem and that it will make a significant contribution to the growing body of research on sexual assault."

With more than 800,000 students enrolled in the participating schools, one would think Westat, one of the nation’s most respected research companies, would run into zero trouble with conducting a survey that would help raise awareness for an issue that reports close to 300,000 victims a year.

In addition to that troubling statistic provided by the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, or RAINN, of those reported cases, 80 percent are under the age of 30 and 40 percent are under the age of 18.

Unfortunately, the survey that began in early April and was supposed to help measure sexual abuse in college crossed the line.

Hannah Crisler, a University of Michigan student who also just happens to be campaign director of I Will, had this to say about the survey:

"There’s a line between collecting statistical information and treating students as a number. I’ve personally become uncomfortable with the questions that were being asked and stopped participating. "Several of my friends were also uncomfortable or re-triggered by taking the survey as well."

Apparently, some students were stunned at the language used in the survey itself, with terms like, “sexual touching,” “penetration” and asked questions whether someone had touched their, “breast, chest, crotch, groin or buttocks,” while students were “passed out, asleep or incapacitated due to drugs or alcohol.”

Since the University of Michigan was sponsoring Westat’s survey, spokesperson Rick Fitzgerald was asked why such language was needed when questioned by Fox News.

He said:

"It is only by directly collecting this information from students that will we be able to prevent negative experiences and effectively respond when they do happen. "Participants may skip any question that they do not want to answer, or stop from participating at any time."

But, why is there such an uncomfortable feeling when filling out a survey that’s supposed to help with awareness involving such a painful subject?

Isn’t that the point of increasing said awareness to take the uncomfortable feeling away, therefore making it easier to talk about?

Shouldn’t these students be thankful for having so many paths to take for help, not upset at the words used to describe what happens in such a terrible incident?

But perhaps college isn’t soon enough to start dealing with sensitive issues such as sexual abuse.

More than a dozen high schools in the New England area have started an education program that ironically had been taught to college students across campuses nationwide.

Katie M. Edwards, a psychology and women’s studies professor at the University of New Hampshire, has stressed prevention needs to start early on:

"We can’t just address this problem when kids go to college."

As reported here, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention surveyed more than 13,000 students in both private and public schools nationwide and found 10.5 percent of girls and 4.2 percent of boys had been forced to have sexual intercourse against their will.

If there was ever a decision to survey kids in middle school next time around, I would hope to read that those percentages are down to zero.