Survey finds sexual assault, harassment persist

A recent survey of Cornell undergraduate, graduate and professional students found that half of respondents experienced one or more forms of sexual or gender-based harassment.

While the overall proportion of students who reported experiencing such misconduct has decreased slightly since 2017, the percentage of students who experienced impacts from those behaviors – such as the creation of a hostile environment or limiting their ability to participate in a Cornell program or activity – has increased.

The 2019 Cornell Survey of Sexual Assault and Related Misconduct is the third survey conducted to measure students’ knowledge of the university’s policies, procedures and resources, as well as their Cornell experiences related to sexual assault, sexual and gender-based harassment, stalking, and dating and domestic violence. The survey was administered during the spring semester to a stratified, random sample of 6,000 students at the Ithaca, Weill Cornell Medicine and Cornell Tech campuses. A total of 2,247 students completed the survey for a response rate of 37%, which is identical to the response rate from the 2017 survey.

“It is important to again acknowledge that our community still has considerable work to do to become a safer, more respectful environment where all students can thrive,” said Mary Opperman, vice president and chief human resources officer. “These surveys are important tools in helping us to understand the issues students are facing and we are extremely grateful to the participants for their willingness to share these deeply personal experiences.”

The survey found that 13% of respondents said they experienced nonconsensual sexual contact as a result of incapacitation, physical force or threats of physical force since attending Cornell, a rise from 11% in 2017. Consistent with previous surveys, undergraduate women, LGBTQ students and students with disabilities continue to experience assault and harassment at significantly higher rates than their peers.

The survey also identified gaps in students’ awareness of several on-campus resources and their use of those resources to talk about experiences with sexual assault or misconduct. Roughly 56% of Ithaca campus respondents said they were aware of services provided by the Title IX coordinator, who oversees Cornell’s compliance with Title IX, investigations of all sexual harassment and assault reports, and education provided by law – a large increase from 38% awareness in 2017 and 9% in 2015.

However, awareness of other university resources relating to sexual assault and harassment remained flat or declined in 2019. These include resources such as Cornell’s Victim Advocacy Program, Women’s Resource Center and LGBT Resource Center.

Students also reported greater knowledge of Cornell’s definitions of affirmative consent and sexual assault. Most students who experienced nonconsensual sexual contact said they confided in a friend; however, only one in five reached out to a Cornell- or community-based resource for support.

“The national conversation around Title IX and the #MeToo movement has further elevated these important issues,” said Ryan Lombardi, vice president for student and campus life. “There is a growing awareness of what is and is not acceptable behavior. It is my hope that students will continue these important conversations with their peers and feel empowered to intervene when they encounter inappropriate behaviors on campus.”

An executive summary outlining the key findings of the survey can be found on the Sexual Harassment and Assault – Response and Education (SHARE) website. The Title IX and SHARE websites provide a comprehensive list of resources ranging from how to help a friend who has experienced sexual assault or harassment to confidential counseling and reporting resources.

Lombardi and Opperman co-chair Cornell’s Coalition on Sexual Violence Prevention. The coalition will continue to review the survey to identify opportunities to improve or expand Cornell’s existing education, intervention and prevention strategies.

Read the full university statement here.

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John Carberry