HEDS Sexual Assault Campus Climate Survey

Spring 2017 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 late spring 2017, and to students at 75 other small colleges during either the 2016-17 academic year or the academic year preceding it. Nearly 860 St. Olaf students responded (37% of them men, 63% of them women), for an overall response rate of 29%. While this exceeded the mean response rate of 23% 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 liberal arts colleges.

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

  • St. Olaf students have a generally positive perception of the overall campus climate, and a more positive view than their counterparts at other schools. 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. Approximately half of all first-year, sophomore, and junior respondents responded affirmatively to all these items. Seniors, particularly senior men, did not respond as positively. However, with the exception of senior men, across all classes and for both men and women, St. Olaf students had more positive views of the general campus climate than did students at the other small institutions that administered the survey. Not surprisingly, 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 more favorable than those of their counterparts at other schools. 93% of St. OIaf respondents saw faculty as making a positive contribution; 88% saw staff in this way; and 79% saw students in this way. There was virtually no difference between the responses of women and men, and these levels of agreement were modestly higher than those of students at other small schools.
  • St. Olaf students view the contributions of the administration to a positive campus climate less favorably than the contributions of other groups, and less favorably than students do at other small colleges. 52% of St. Olaf women and 62% of St. Olaf men agreed that the administration contributes to a positive campus climate, compared to 65% of women and 67% of men at the other small institutions that administered the survey. Similarly, only 44% of St. Olaf respondents thought that campus officials handle incidents in a fair and responsible manner, compared to 55% of students from other small institutions.
  • Similar to students at other institutions, a majority of St. Olaf students believe that campus officials would take a report of sexual assault seriously. 74% of St. Olaf students, and 75% of students at other institutions, believed this to be the case. For both populations, men were more likely than women, and first years were more likely than seniors, to think this. Similarly, 61% of St. Olaf respondents, and 66% of respondents from other schools, agreed that campus officials do a good job protecting students from harm.

Education and Prevention

  • St. Olaf students express greater awareness of the risks of sexual assault than do students at other small colleges, with women indicating greater awareness than men, and awareness levels increasing as students continue in college. Among St. Olaf respondents, only 37% of first-year women, and only 12% of senior women, agreed with the statement, “I do not believe that I or one of my friends is at risk for being sexually assaulted on campus, off campus at an event or program connected with this institution, or at a social activity or party near campus.” In contrast, 42% of first-year women and 30% of senior women at other small schools agreed with the same statement. Men were more likely than women to agree with this statement, but St. Olaf men were less likely than men at other small schools to do so; 42% of first-year Ole men and 30% of senior Ole men agreed, compared to 62% of first-year men and 51% of senior men at other schools. It is unclear whether St. Olaf students’ responses stem from a better understanding of the prevalence of sexual violence in general, or from their perceptions of the incidence of sexual violence at St. Olaf specifically.
  • 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. 80-92% of St. Olaf students said they had received information from the college about how to recognize sexual assault, how to report it, who the confidential resources on campus were and how to find them, and how to prevent sexual assault. In addition, most St. Olaf students said they remembered most or all of what they had learned, and that the information was helpful. The one topic where a majority of Oles did not recall that they had received information from the college concerned the college’s procedures for investigating sexual assault; similar to their counterparts from other schools, only 45% of St. Olaf respondents indicated that they had been educated about this topic, with another 18% uncertain whether they had or not.

Unwanted Sexual Contact

  • 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). Smaller percentages of St. Olaf students reported that they had been subjected to unwanted verbal behaviors, nonverbal behaviors, or brief physical contact of a sexual nature, compared to respondents at other schools. The most frequent form of unwanted sexual contact reported by all respondents, both at St. Olaf and at other schools, was verbal, with nearly a quarter 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)
6% 11%
Brief physical contact (brief groping, brief rubbing or
brushing against the respondent)
 9% 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.

  • 94% 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. 21% 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.

Sexual Assault

  • 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 identical at the other small institutions that administered the survey.
  • 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. An identical percentage of the respondents at other small institutions reported having been assaulted as well.  In both the St. Olaf group and the comparison group, women were more likely than men to indicate they had been assaulted, with 12% of women respondents and approximately 4% of men respondents saying they had experienced this.  Rates of sexual assault increased with class rank, with seniors reporting the highest rates.  However, this does not necessarily mean that assaults are more likely to occur in the senior year; in fact, 52% of those who reported being assaulted indicated that they were assaulted in their first year at St. Olaf.  Additionally, just over half of those who reported being assaulted indicated that they were the victim of multiple assaults.  Finally, an additional 5% of students both at St. Olaf and at other small schools indicated that they suspected they had been sexually assaulted, but were not certain.
  • Most sexual assaults are happening on campus. Of the incidents reported by St. Olaf students, 78% occurred in a residence hall, honor house, or other non-residential campus location. The majority of assaults reported by respondents at other small colleges (71%) also occurred on campus, but students at other schools were more likely than St. Olaf students to have experienced an assault at an apartment, restaurant, or bar near their campus.
  • A large majority of assaults involve alcohol. 76% of Oles who reported having been assaulted indicated that the perpetrator(s) had been drinking; 59% said that they themselves had been drinking.  These findings are in line with national data and similar (though not identical) to the results from the other participating small institutions, with 70% of the assaulted respondents indicating that the perpetrator(s) had been drinking and 63% saying that they themselves had been drinking.
  • Incapacitation and physical force are common features of assaults both at St. Olaf and elsewhere. 40% of assaulted St. Olaf students, and 41% 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, 49% of Oles, and 46% 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 were known to each other but were not romantically involved. Of the assaults reported by St. Olaf students, 71% were committed by a non-romantic friend or acquaintance, a casual date, or a hookup.  This is similar to the percentage reported by students at other institutions (76%).
  • Of those who reported a sexual assault, most confided in someone else about their experience. 90% said they told a close friend, 40% said they told a roommate, and 30% said they told a romantic partner. 10% indicated that they did not tell anyone. This percentage is higher for men than for women. Of the 13 men who reported a sexual assault, 3 did not tell anyone (23%) while 5 of the 63 women (8%) did not tell anyone.
  • Most survey respondents who reported having been sexually assaulted, whether at St. Olaf or at the other participating institutions, chose not to use their college’s procedures to file a formal report. Only 17% of the students who responded to this question at St. Olaf, and only 15% of responding students at other institutions, indicated that they had used their school’s formal reporting process.  While the rate of formal reporting was similar across the two groups of respondents was similar, satisfaction rates at St. Olaf were lower.  Only 31% of the St. Olaf students who filed a formal report with the college said they were satisfied with the college’s process, compared to 44% of reporting students from other small institutions.

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. 59% of all St. Olaf students, and 60% of students at other institutions, agreed with this statement. For both populations, men were more likely than women to think that bystanders would intervene, and first-years were more likely than seniors to believe this.
  • A majority of students, both at St. Olaf and at other institutions, 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.  8% of the respondents in both groups said they had observed an incident that they considered to be sexual assault, and of those students, two-thirds said they intervened to stop the assault.  22% of St. Olaf students, and 19% of students at other small schools, said they had observed an incident that they believed could have led to sexual assault; of these students, just over half in both groups said they intervened.  For the most part, only small percentages of students in both groups reported that the reason they didn’t intervene was because they didn’t know how to do so.
  • Some gender differences in the self-reported intervention behaviors of men and women were evident at St. Olaf that were not evident at the comparison institutions. While overall patterns of response at St. Olaf and at other small schools were similar, there were differences by gender. When observing a situation that looked like a sexual assault in progress, St. Olaf men (85%) were more likely to intervene than St. Olaf women (54%).  Women observers in these situations were more likely to indicate that they didn’t feel safe, didn’t feel comfortable, or didn’t know how to intervene effectively.  The pattern was reversed where bystanders believed they had observed situations that could have led to sexual assault; in these circumstances women (56%) were more likely than men (41%) to report that they intervened. At other small institutions, there was no difference in the intervention rates reported by men and women.
  • 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 who said they had been assaulted, and just over half of their counterparts at other small schools, said there were no bystanders present at the time of the incident, and another 14% of both groups weren’t sure whether bystanders were present or not.  But even when survivor students said that bystanders were present, only 28% of the St. Olaf respondents said that the bystanders intervened, 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 schools to report that a bystander was present, but less likely to report that a bystander had intervened. 53% of St. Olaf students who reported a suspected or attempted assault indicated that there were bystanders during the incident, but only 40% of these students in other small schools had bystanders available.  However, of these Oles that had had a bystander present, only 36% indicated that the bystander intervened, compared to 41% of similarly-situated students at the comparison institutions.