One in Five.

By Elena Meth

One in five. On an especially hot and humid August day in Ohio, I, and about 600 (give or take) other incoming First Year students, sat in a room and listened to our new university tell us that statistically speaking, 1 in 5 women and 1 in 20 men would be sexually assaulted before our time at Denison was over.[1] Before hearing these words, I hadn’t really been paying attention. I, like my new classmates, was more worried about the infinite bug bites on my legs from DOO and how much longer I was going to have to stay in Burke Auditorium. Now, there was a lump in my throat as I looked at the people around me. In a group of 100+ people, easily there were 50 women, meaning that at least 10 of them would be assaulted at some point in the next four years, if they hadn’t been already. I was overwhelmed with fear that anyone around me could be a potential assailant, but that wasn’t the worst part about it. What has continued to chill me even today is how apathetic everyone around me seemed to be about the issue. Why wasn’t anyone asking questions? Why wasn’t anyone interested in specific data about assault at Denison? Did those stats even exist? Hence, why we are here.

If you don’t know me, I’m SHARE’s current Education and Outreach Coordinator. I love being in SHARE and the work that I am able to do, but I wish I didn’t have to do it. And truthfully, based on the existing information about assault and harassment at Denison, you might think I don’t actually need to do any major sexual misconduct prevention work. For the 2016-2017 school year, 16 counts of sexual harassment and 16 counts of “non-consensual sexual touching/sexual assault” were reported through the Campus Climate Office.[2] If we were to believe that the reported instances of harassment and assault were the only instances at all, Denison’s sexual misconduct rate would be about 2.4% (if  we use the number of women as the denominator).[3] According to RAINN, only about 20% of students experiencing harassment or assault report the incident, which suggests that about 12%, or 160, female students on campus have been assaulted or harassed.[4] Obviously, no percent of sexual assault is great, but 12% is certainly more promising than the 20% national average, right? Well, as an advocate I can say that even before seeing data to document it, I (and SHARE more generally) was aware that Denison’s reporting rates are surely low. We’ve come up with a number of explanations as to why it’s so low – everything from a unsupportive County Prosecutor to campus stigma to students not fully understanding how the reporting process works – but the bottom line is I was positive more harassment and assaults were occurring on campus than our official facts and figures let on.

So, here’s where we get to the 127 stuff. In the February 2018 survey to all students, I asked some questions to gauge the level of assault on campus and the overall willingness of students to disclose that information. We asked four questions on the subject to better understand who has been sexually harassed or assaulted, whether we know when our peers have been victims of these situations and how much harassment and assault occurs on campus. Of the 530 students who answered the question regarding knowing individuals who’ve been sexually assaulted or harassed on campus, 62% responded that they did know a survivor of harassment or assault on campus. When broken into male and female responses, the percentage rates for knowing a survivor were 53% and 67%, respectively.

knowledge by gender

Next, I looked at how many students on average we believe experience some form of sexual harassment or assault on campus.[5] As you can see from the figure below left, student responses varied from 0 to almost 90% – but the average perceived rate of harassment and assault is about 29%. Again, females perceived a higher rate of assault and harassment on campus than male students (25% perception for men and 31% for women). As the next figure shows, perception of assault and harassment increases by class year; in other words, seniors believe more students experience some type of harassment or assault than freshmen (p<.01). Though these numbers are close to Denison’s actual rate of sexual harassment and assault (keep reading), I imagined the perceived rates would be higher. This question attends to the issue of definitions of harassment and assault, as well. I think you’d be hard pressed to find a female student at Denison who hasn’t at some time or another been grabbed at a party or catcalled – these classify as harassment, too. But, to be clear, we did not provide specific definitions of ‘harassment’ or ‘assault’ in the survey.

gender and class on perceptions

Most importantly, we wanted to know what portion of campus has experienced sexual harassment or assault, but not in a way that asked survey participants to self-identify. We used a procedure called a ‘list experiment’ or ‘unmatched count technique,’ which allows people to admit to things that would otherwise be socially difficult to do (read the footnote for more).[6] We have no way of knowing which respondents are survivors and which are not.  Our results indicate that about 23% of female students and no male students have been sexually assaulted or harassed while on campus. Compared to RAINN’s estimate, Denison is spot on the national average. In a student body of 2,350 with 1,339 female students, 23% suggests that about 308 women have experienced some type of sexual harassment or assault.

Even though our data did not suggest that men on campus experienced sexual harassment and assault, it is highly unlikely that male assault and harassment is truly nonexistent. Knowing this, I would bet that the rates may be higher for a number of reasons such as survivors not being able to process their experience and trauma repression and fear of public ridicule. People may not even be comfortable reporting their experience through a confidential survey. I don’t know about you all, but I’m not ok with that.

So, what can we do? Beyond the simple “don’t assault people,” step up when you see something happening. Think about what you would want your friends and peers to do for you and never stand back and watch. If you or someone you know is a survivor of harassment or assault: Your experiences are valid. It was not your fault. If you want to talk, reach out to a counselor or a SHARE advocate, but please get the help you need. 308 students are 308 students too many.

Confidential and Non-Confidential Resources:

  • SHARE Hotline (Confidential) 740-973-4862
  • SHARE Exec Office Hours (Confidential) – Posted on FB and 4th Floor of Slayter
  • Whisler Health Center (Confidential) 740-587-6200
  • Denison Chaplain (Confidential) 740-587-8583
  • Campus Safety (Non-Confidential) 740-587-0810
  • ResComm/RAs and HRs (Non-Confidential)
  • Faculty and Staff
  • Title IX Office 740-587-6728

Elena Meth is a junior Political Science and Environmental Studies double major who desperately wishes she was in New Zealand and not Ohio.  She enjoys sternly telling people to recycle and doing Bystander Intervention presentations for campus orgs (please contact her about doing a Bystander Intervention presentation for your org).

1. These stats are based on data provided by RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network). For full campus assault and harassment statistics, click here.
2. Denison University Campus Climate Page provides information on reports of sexual misconduct as well as vandalism, hazing, and other instances of student misconduct. That page is here.
3. Based on a student body of 2,350 and 1,339 women.
4. RAINN’s reporting estimates can be found here.
5. The question asked: “What percentage of Denison students do you think has been sexually harassed or assaulted on Denison’s campus?”
6. A list experiment randomly assigns a list with either 4 or 5 items, asking participants to identify how many of the statements apply to them. The four statements common to each list included: I have blue eyes. I have more than one sibling. I drink coffee every morning or nearly every morning. I wear glasses to correct my vision. The fifth statement was “I have been sexually harassed or assaulted on Denison’s campus.” As long as the two statement groups are randomized effectively, which means each group has equivalent samples (e.g., the same proportion of women), we can use the difference in the mean number of statements selected as an estimate of the proportion who have been harassed or assaulted. The groups were statistically indistinguishable in terms of race, GPA, and Greek status. However, the proportions of women were different in the two groups – 59% of the 4 statement control group and 68% of the 5 statement treatment group. There was no way they could know this in advance and everyone was notified in the survey invitation that questions about sexual harassment and assault were going to be asked. Our solution was to examine men and women separately. We checked for balance separately among men and among women and the sex-specific samples are balanced across the treatment groups – GPA, greek status, race (we also checked binge drinking) were statistically indistinguishable across the treatments (there were slight, insignificant differences, which statistical controls can help balance). When the list proportions are estimated separately by sex, the estimates change slightly if controls (GPA, residential quad, race and class year) are added to the model (21% and p=.072 without controls and 23% and p=.045 when controls are added). The estimates for men are at zero (.03 and p=.84 without controls and then -.001 and p=.99 with controls added).

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