Survey Shows Extent of Sexual Harassment Among UH Students

February 9, 2020, 8:04 PM HST · Updated February 9, 8:04 PM
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Pilina Building on the UH Maui College campus. Courtesy photo.

The University of Hawaiʻi officially released its latest biennial student survey on sexual harassment and gender-based violence, issues that are prevalent among college students nationwide.

Representatives say the student survey of the 10-campus system is an important tool for UH in providing a safe and discrimination-free learning and working environment and is considered a national best practice.

The 2019 survey updates the benchmarks set in the inaugural 2017 survey, among the first in the nation to cover the students of an entire university system—four-year universities, community colleges and graduate and professional schools, on- and off-campus.

More than 6,300 students, or about 16 percent of UH’s over 40,000 adult students participated in the 2019 survey, a 1.4-point increase from 2017.

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The survey consisted of 143 questions that covered four areas: prevalence of sexual harassment and gender violence, student assessment of the university’s response, student perceptions of campus safety and student awareness of policies, processes and programs.

“The biennial studies provide the data we need to understand where we have issues and, over time, how we are doing in addressing them,” UH President David Lassner said in a press release.

“Optimal learning outcomes are nearly impossible to achieve if students are being harassed or worse, and we are committed to providing an equitable environment in which students can focus on their studies.”

According to UH, about 86 percent of survey respondents said they felt little or no personal risk of being sexually harassed or sexually assaulted while on campus.

About 66 percent of students reported that the issue of sexual harassment and sexual assault at UH is a little problematic (27.3 percent) or not at all problematic (39.2 percent). The number of students selecting the “Not at all” option, increased by 9 percentage points from the 2017 survey.

Three out of four students said they felt little or no risk attending UH-sponsored off-campus events, with half indicating no risk.

86 percent of students reported that they had seen or heard of resources available to students experiencing gender violence.

There was an increase of reported incidents in each of the four areas covered by the 2019 student survey, when compared to the 2017 survey results.

Representatives say the rise was “expected with greater awareness of these issues on UH campuses and in the national conversation with the #MeToo movement.”

When students were asked about their experiences anytime and anywhere while enrolled at UH:

  • 7.2 percent reported nonconsensual sexual contact (6.3 percent in 2017)
  • 12.7 percent reported being sexually harassed (9.3 percent in 2017)
  • 10.6 percent reported being stalked (9.7 percent 2017)
  • 21.3 percent said they were victims of dating or domestic violence (19.1 percent in 2017)

The numbers dropped when students were asked about their experiences during the current academic year:

  • 2.9 percent reported nonconsensual sexual contact
  • 8 percent reported being sexually harassed
  • 6.1 percent reported being stalked
  • 12.1 percent said they were victims of dating or domestic violence

“With greater awareness, we believe more students will feel safe and will utilize the confidential resources available to get the help they need,” Lassner added.

The university’s student survey is modeled after a biennial survey by the Association of American Universities (AAU). The results of AAU’s third and latest survey were released in October 2019 with a total of 181,752 students from 33 colleges and universities participating. The rates of nonconsensual sexual contact and sexual harassment any time while enrolled were higher in the AAU student survey. The rates of stalking and intimate partner violence were higher in the UH survey, though it is important to note that the UH survey defines stalking and dating and domestic violence more broadly.

  • Nonconsensual contact: UH—7.2 percent/AAU—16.5 percent
  • Sexual harassment: UH—12.7 percent/AAU—41.8 percent
  • Stalking: UH—10.6 percent/AAU—5.8 percent
  • Dating and Domestic Violence: UH—21.3 percent/AAU—10 percent

In 2018, each campus implemented action plans addressing the results of the 2017 survey.

Since the 246-page 2019 survey report provides data on each of the 10 UH campuses, representatives say it will be used to assess the effectiveness and update those action plans, and the campuses will have more data available.

Compared to 2017, the 2019 survey report provides more information of those accused of sexual harassment and gender-based violence including their relationship with the complainant and their association with the university.

The data will also be used to assess the university’s progress and to guide policy, training and initiatives to meet the university’s obligations under the Violence Against Women Act and Title IX, the federal law prohibiting sexual discrimination in any education program or activity receiving federal funding.

The climate survey was one of the many steps identified and pursued by the university to strengthen its Title IX response and support services. It received widespread support from state lawmakers and was mandated by the legislature through Act 208 in 2016.

The survey was conducted by Hawaiʻi-based OmniTrak Group Inc. from Jan. 21 to Feb. 21, 2019, with consultation from nationally-renowned subject matter experts Professor Sandra L. Martin of the University of North Carolina and Professor Bonnie S. Fisher of the University of Cincinnati who consulted on the Association of American Universities 2015 and 2019 Campus Climate Surveys on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct.

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