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Students more aware of resources, but sexual assault, harassment continue

A recent Cornell survey of undergraduate, graduate and professional students found students are more aware of resources available to them and actions they can take to prevent or intervene in sexual harassment and nonconsensual sexual contact than they were a couple of years ago. However, the number and character of incidents of sexual harassment or assault, and the prevalence of alcohol as a contributing factor, remain high.

“Sexual assault and related misconduct – including sexual and gender-based harassment, dating and domestic violence, and stalking – is a serious problem, occurring with unacceptable frequency on campuses across the country, including our own,” wrote Ryan Lombardi, vice president for student and campus life, Mary Opperman, vice president and chief human resources officer, and Dr. Dana Zappetti, associate dean of student affairs at Weill Cornell Medicine, in a recent message to the Cornell community.

Among key findings, the 2017 Cornell Survey of Sexual Assault and Related Misconduct found 55 percent of respondents said they had experienced one or more forms of harassment, and 11 percent of students experienced nonconsensual sexual contact as a result of physical force, threats of physical force or incapacitation since attending Cornell.

Calling the survey statistics “disturbing,” Lombardi, Opperman and Zappetti wrote that as a community, “we can and will do more to create a climate where everyone is safe, respected and has access to appropriate support resources.”

The 2017 survey is the second survey to measure students’ knowledge of Cornell’s policies, procedures and resources, and their experiences of sexual harassment, assault and related misconduct at Cornell. It is the first conducted under New York state law (129-B), which requires that all in-state universities conduct a survey of campus sexual violence every two years.

An invitation to take the 2017 survey was sent to a stratified, random sample of 6,000 undergraduate, graduate and professional students enrolled at the Ithaca, Weill Cornell Medicine and Cornell Tech campuses; 2,238 students completed the survey for an overall response rate of 37 percent – almost double the 19 percent response rate of the 2015 survey. Undergraduate women had the highest response rate (44 percent), while undergraduate men had the lowest (29 percent).

Awareness of services specifically related to sexual assault and misconduct has increased substantively among Ithaca campus students since 2015, and more than half the respondents of the 2017 survey know where to seek help if they or a friend have experienced an incident.

Students who experienced some form of harassment were most likely to talk to a friend (71 percent) about nonconsensual sexual contact, followed by a spouse or romantic partner (19 percent). Only 19 percent contacted a Cornell- or community-based resource.

“While it is encouraging that the number of students aware of these resources continues to increase, the overwhelming likelihood is that a student will talk to a friend about their experience before seeking help from campus- or community-based resources, and we need to recognize and reinforce the importance of the roles every person in our community plays in advancing the culture we seek,” said Opperman.

Among other findings:

  • Most students responding to the survey described their offender as a Cornell student. Graduate and professional students were more likely to say the offender was not affiliated with Cornell. For undergraduates, the most common locations for nonconsensual sexual contact were a residence hall, fraternity house or off-campus residence. Graduate and professional students identified off-campus residences as sites of nonconsensual sexual contact and also listed restaurants, bars or clubs.
  • More than two-thirds of students who said they had witnessed another student being sexually harassed – or became aware of someone trying to take advantage of another student sexually – intervened to stop or disrupt the situation. Most students who did not intervene said they were uncertain about what to do.

“There are helpful resources such as the ‘Intervene’ video and workshops from Cornell Health, Consent Ed and Cayuga’s Watchers that can teach students how to identify high-risk situations and take appropriate action, but it is clear we also need a fundamental shift in culture that at its core respects the dignity of all in our community,” said Lombardi.

Lombardi and Opperman, who co-chair Cornell’s Coalition on Sexual Violence Prevention, will meet with the coalition later today to review the survey findings and determine next steps.

An overview of the results of the survey is online. Information and resources are available at the Sexual Harassment and Assault Response and Education (SHARE) and Title IX websites.

Media Contact

John Carberry