Harvard president calls results of an unprecedented sexual assault survey 'deeply disturbing'

The Association of American Universities released the results of one of the largest ever surveys of sexual assault on college campuses Monday, and the results at Harvard were particularly dismaying.

“Thirty-one per cent of senior undergraduate females at Harvard College who responded to a sexual conduct climate survey last spring said they had experienced some form of ‘nonconsensual sexual contact’ during their time at the College,” The Harvard Crimson wrote on Monday.

Harvard University President Drew G. Faust Harvard president called results of the survey “deeply disturbing” in an email to students and faculty, according to The Crimson.

The findings at Harvard came after the US Department of Education found Harvard Law School in violation of sexual harassment policies. Harvard Law agreed to improve policies and procedures on campus in December.

In response to the updated policies, 28 members of Harvard Law School faculty objected to the changes, calling them an overreaction that would do more harm than good for Harvard students.

The professors’ main concern was that the updated policies impinged on the due process rights of students accused of wrongdoing.

Across the US, colleges have been struggling with how to respond to cases of sexual assault. As of April, 106 colleges were under federal investigation for allegedly mishandling sexual assault cases. The Department of Education launched the investigations to determine if the schools violated Title IX — the federal law that prohibits gender discrimination — in their responses to sexual violence cases.

As such, schools have begun to face mounting pressure to be more responsive to sexual assault and also to help prevent it.

NEW YORK, NY - JULY 07: Women cheer as New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signs into law a new affirmative sexual consent policy to combat campus sexual violence on July 7, 2015 in New York City. Joined by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, local politicians and activists, the bill includes a 'yes means yes' definition of consent requiring a clear and affirmative agreement between sexual partners. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)Getty / Spencer PlattWomen cheer as New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signs into law a new affirmative sexual consent policy to combat campus sexual violence.

With that in mind, The American Association of Universities took unprecedented steps in its role of conducting one of America’s first ever sexual assault campus climate surveys.

The survey was one of the largest ever conducted on the prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses.

Twenty-seven universities participated, with more than 150,000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students answering survey questions on incidents of sexual misconduct and the perceptions of these instances on campus.

Prior to the AAU study, many public figures pointed to the statistic that one in five women were the victim of sexual assault, a number that came from a 2007 study conducted for the National Institute of Justice.

The AAU study is more comprehensive and offers additional nuance into the conversation about how college campuses address sexual assault. The findings, though fairly consistent with previous understanding of the prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses, were nonetheless disturbing.

“Overall, 11.7% of student respondents across 27 universities reported experiencing non-consensual sexual contact by physical force, threats of physical force, or incapacitation since they enrolled at their university,” the study found.

The AAU also noted that there was wide variation in sexual assault percentages across the campuses.

Those percentages are not available on the AAU’s website, as each individual college has the ability to decide if it will publicly release its data. Some colleges have already released findings on their websites.

“13 per cent of students reported having experienced attempted or completed nonconsensual sexual contact by incapacitation or physical force since entering the institution,” The Dartmouth reported on Monday.

The findings, though they may be uncomfortable to confront at certain schools, are an important step in countering sexual assaults on campus.

“We hope the data our universities have collected in this survey will help guide their policies and practices as they work to address and prevent sexual assault and sexual misconduct on campus, and to ensure that reports of sexual assault and sexual misconduct are handled with care, compassion, and a commitment to fair, prompt, and impartial review and resolution,” Hunter Rawlings, president of AAU, said.

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