HEDS Sexual Assault Campus Climate Survey 2020

Spring 2020 Results – Key Findings

The HEDS Sexual Assault Campus Climate Survey is a questionnaire for undergraduate students developed and administered by the Higher Education Data Sharing Consortium, a membership organization of private colleges and universities that share knowledge and expertise to advance undergraduate liberal arts education, inclusive excellence, and student success. The questionnaire asks students about their perceptions of their institution’s climate for unwanted sexual contact and sexual assault; their perceptions of how their institution responds to sexual assaults; and whether and how often they have experienced unwanted sexual contact or sexual assault.

The survey was administered to students at St. Olaf in February 2020, and students at 67 other small colleges during either the 2019-20 academic year or the academic year preceding it. 689 St. Olaf students responded (19% of men, 24% of women), with an overall response rate of 23%. While this is similar to the mean response rate of 22% for the other participating institutions, results should be treated with caution, because neither response rate was high enough to know whether the findings are representative of the overall student population either at St. Olaf or at the comparison schools. Nevertheless, the results provide insight into the perceptions and experiences of many St. Olaf students and their counterparts at other small colleges. The survey was also administered in spring 2017 with a response rate of 29%, and comparative insights will be included below. 

For the most part, the survey responses of participating St. Olaf students were similar to those of participating students at other small colleges, but there were some differences as well. Both similarities and differences with the comparison group are included in the highlights reported below.

Overall Campus Climate 

  • Nearly half of St. Olaf Students reported an overall positive perception of the campus climate. The survey includes a series of questions about the extent to which students believe that faculty, staff, administrators, and other students respect what they think, are concerned about their welfare, and treat them fairly. The survey also asks whether students feel close to other people, feel safe on campus, and feel a sense of belonging in the college community. 48% of men and 43% of women agreed or strongly agreed to all eight statements (similar to in 2017), compared to 42% of men and 38% of women at other small colleges. Overall, students who experienced higher levels of unwanted sexual contact, who experienced an attempted sexual assault, and who have been sexually assaulted were less likely to agree with the general campus climate questions.
  • St. Olaf students have a very favorable view of the contributions of faculty, staff, and other students to a positive and supportive campus climate, and their views are just as favorable as in 2017 and those of their counterparts at other schools.  90% of St. Olaf respondents saw faculty as making a positive contribution, 89% saw staff in this way, and 83% saw students in this way. 
  • St. Olaf students view the contributions of the administration to a positive campus climate less favorably than the contributions of other groups. 63% of students agreed that the administration contributes to a positive campus climate, similar to other small schools and up from 56% in 2017. Similarly, only 46% of St. Olaf respondents thought that campus officials handle incidents in a fair and responsible manner (up from 44% in 2017), compared to 53% of students from other small institutions.
  • The majority of St. Olaf students, 74%, believe that campus officials would take a report of sexual assault seriously. This percentage is the same for students at other small schools and the same as it was in 2017.

  • St. Olaf students express slightly greater awareness of the risks of sexual assault than do students at other small colleges, with women indicating greater awareness than men. 36% of students (52% of men and 28% or women) do not believe that they or one of their friends is at risk for being sexually assaulted on campus, off-campus at an event or program connected with St. Olaf, or at a social activity or party near campus. These numbers are reflective of those for other small institutions (40% overall agreed, 53% of men, 33% of women), with St. Olaf students being slightly more aware of the risks of sexual assault. These values are similar to those in 2017. 
  • Large majorities of St. Olaf students affirmed that the college had educated them about a variety of issues related to sexual assault, at higher rates than students from other small colleges. 91% of St. Olaf students said they had received information from the college about how to recognize sexual assault, 85% on how to report it, 88% on who the confidential resources on campus were and how to find them, and 88% how to prevent sexual assault. These percentages increased since 2017 when they ranged from 80-92%
    • The majority of students reported remembering most or all of the information they were taught (71%) and found it helpful (68%). The piece of information students feel the least educated on is procedures for investigating sexual assault, with only 53% of students reporting they were sure they had been educated on it. This number is still greater than it was in 2017 (45%) and than it is at other small institutions (48%). 
  • Compared to their peers at other small institutions, St. Olaf students reported fewer experiences of all types of unwanted sexual contact (sexually-related behaviors other than sexual assault). The most frequent form of unwanted sexual contact reported by all respondents, both at St. Olaf and other small schools, was verbal, with 22% of St. Olaf respondents reporting that they sometimes or often experienced this behavior.

       % “Sometimes,” “Often,” or “Very Often” responses

Type of unwanted sexual contact St. Olaf respondents* Other institutions’ respondents
Verbal (sexual comments about the respondent’s body; sexual propositions or jokes) 22% 29%
Nonverbal (sending or showing sexual texts or

pictures; posting sexual comments about the respondent; making lewd gestures)

8% 12%
Brief physical contact (brief groping, brief rubbing or brushing against the respondent) 16 % 19%

*There were no “Very Often” responses in any of these categories from participating St. Olaf students; percentages from other institutions did include “Very Often” responses.

  • 90% of students who reported that they have experienced unwanted sexual contact indicated that the person responsible for this behavior (in at least one of their experiences) was another student from St. Olaf, 18% said that a student from another institution had been responsible for one of these behaviors while 13% said that a person or people from the local community were responsible. These percentages are nearly identical to those from 2017. Students from other small schools were more likely to cite students from other institutions or people from the local community with 29% and 26% respectively. 

Sexual Assault

  • 10% of St. Olaf respondents reported they had been sexually assaulted during their time at St. Olaf, either on campus, off-campus at a St. Olaf event or program, or near campus at a party or other social activity. This is the same percentage as in 2017. 11% of respondents at other small schools report having been assaulted. In both the St. Olaf group and other small schools, women were more likely than men to indicate they had been assaulted, with 14% of female respondents and approximately 4% of male respondents saying they had experienced assault. (Similar to all small schools with 13% and 4% respectively). The percentage of women experiencing assault increased from 12% in 2017. 46% of sexual assaults occurred during the victim’s freshmen years, compared to 53% overall for small institutions.

Rates of sexual assault over students’ time at St. Olaf increased with class year overall, with Junior women reporting the highest rates. This does not necessarily reflect the year in which the assault occurred, as most assaults occurred during the victims’ first year of college. 

First-Year Sophomore Junior Senior
Women 7% 10% 22% 21%
Men 2% 4% 2% 10%
Overall  5% 10% 16% 16%
  • Most sexual assaults are happening on campus. Of the incidents reported by St. Olaf students, 75% occurred in a residence hall, honor house, or other non-residential campus location (down from 78% in 2017). The majority of assaults reported by respondents at other small colleges (75%) also occurred on campus, but students at other small schools were more likely than St. Olaf students to experience an assault at an apartment, restaurant, or bar near their campus.

  • There was a large increase in incidents reported by St. Olaf students which occurred during Off-Campus Study Programs. 16% of assaults reported by St. Olaf students occurred during Study Abroad, Study Away, or Other Off-Campus Study Programs which is a sizable increase from 3% in 2017. It is also a much higher rate than reported by other small colleges (4%). It is important to note that St. Olaf likely has a higher percentage of the student body studying abroad than other small schools, yet this does not explain the increase from 2017 to 2020.
  • A majority of assaults involve alcohol. 66% of Oles who reported having been assaulted indicated that the perpetrator(s) had been drinking; 66% said that they themselves had been drinking. These findings are similar to the results from the other participating small institutions, with 68% of the assaulted respondents indicating that the perpetrator(s) had been drinking and 62% saying that they themselves had been drinking. Compared to 2017, fewer perpetrators at St. Olaf had been drinking (down from 76%) and more victims had been drinking (up from 59%).
  • Some assaults involve drug usage. 12% of Oles who reported having been assaulted indicated that the perpetrator(s) had used drugs (same in 2017); 6% said that they themselves voluntarily used drugs (up from 5% in 2017); 4% of said they were given a drug without knowledge or consent (up from 0% in 2017).
  • Incapacitation and physical force are common features of assaults both at St. Olaf and elsewhere. 46% of assaulted St. Olaf students (up from 41% in 2017) and 52% of assaulted students at other small schools indicated that they were unable to provide consent because they were asleep, drugged, drunk, or passed out. In addition, 42% of Oles (down from 49% in 2017) and 45% of the comparison group indicated that physical force had been used during their assault.

  • A large majority of the incidents described in the survey involved people who knew each other but were not romantically involved. Of the assaults reported by St. Olaf students, 75% were committed by a non-romantic friend or acquaintance, a casual date, or a hookup (up from 71% in 2017). This is the same as the percentage reported by students at other small institutions (75%).

  • Of those who reported a sexual assault, most confided in someone else about their experience. 85% said they told a close friend, 31% said they told a roommate, and 17% said they told a romantic partner. 8% indicated that they did not tell anyone. These numbers differ from those in 2017, which were 90% close friend, 40% roommate, 30% romantic partner, and 10% no one. These percentages are similar to those reported by other small schools.

  • Most survey respondents who reported having been sexually assaulted, whether at St. Olaf or the other small institutions, chose not to use their college’s procedures to file a formal report. Only 25% of the students who responded to this question at St. Olaf (up from 17% in 2017) and only 16% of responding students at other institutions indicated that they had used their school’s formal reporting process.

  • Students are more satisfied with the college’s reporting process than in 2017. 75% of the St. Olaf students who filed a formal report with the college said they were satisfied with the college’s process, which is a sizable increase from 31% in 2017. Other small schools in 2020 reported 43% of students being satisfied with their colleges’ reporting processes.

  • 9% of St. Olaf respondents reported that someone had attempted to, but not succeeded in, sexually assaulting them during their time at St. Olaf, either on campus, off-campus at a St. Olaf event or program, or near campus at a party or other social activity, and an additional 6% of Oles indicated that they suspected that someone had attempted to sexually assault them, but were not certain. The reported rates of attempted or suspected attempts at sexual assault were the same in 2017 and similar to the other small institutions that administered the survey (10%). 

Bystander Beliefs and Behaviors

  • Similar to students at other institutions, a majority of St. Olaf students believe that students would intervene if they witnessed a sexual assault. 64% of all St. Olaf students (up from 59% in 2017) and 62% of students at other small institutions agreed with this statement. For both populations, men were more likely than women to think that bystanders would intervene (75% of men agreed).

  • About half of students at St. Olaf reported that they chose to intervene when they observed a situation that constituted, or could lead to, sexual assault.  Students who did not report that they themselves had been assaulted were asked about the kinds of situations they had observed and how they had responded, and the observations and behaviors of St. Olaf students as a whole were similar to those of students at other institutions. 
    • 9% of St. Olaf respondents and said they had observed an incident that they considered to be sexual assault (up from 8% in 2017), and of those students, 57% (down from 67%) said they intervened to stop the assault.  For small schools, 8% of respondents said they had observed an assault and 71% said they intervened. 
  •  18% of St. Olaf students (down from 22% in 2017) and the same amount of students at other small schools said they had observed an incident they believed could have led to sexual assault. Of these students, 50% of St. Olaf students (same in 2017) and 60% of those at small colleges said they intervened.

  • Similar to students at other schools, the majority of St. Olaf students who said they had experienced a sexual assault did not receive help from bystanders, either because there were no bystanders present or because bystander(s) did not intervene. Nearly half of the St. Olaf students (and their counterparts at other small schools who said they had been assaulted, same in 2017) said there were no bystanders present at the time of the incident, and another 11% of St. Olaf students weren’t sure whether bystanders were present or not. 
    • When survivor students said that bystanders were present, only 26% of the St. Olaf respondents said that the bystanders intervened (down from 28% in 2017), similar to the bystander assistance experienced by the survivor students at the other small schools (24%).
  • Olaf students who said they suspected they were sexually assaulted, experienced an attempted sexual assault, or suspected they experienced an attempted sexual assault, were more likely than students at other small schools to report that a bystander was present, but less likely to report that a bystander had intervened. 44% of St. Olaf students who marked a suspected or attempted assault indicated that there were bystanders during the incident (down from 53% in 2017), but only 41% of these students in other small schools had bystanders available. However, of these Oles that had had a bystander present, only 32% indicated that the bystander intervened (down from 36% in 2017), compared to 44% of similarly situated students at the comparison institutions.