Penn State Survey Finds Sexual Misconduct is Common - Higher Education
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Penn State Survey Finds Sexual Misconduct is Common

by Mark Scolforo, Associated Press

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — A survey of sexual misconduct at Penn State’s main campus found that more than three-quarters of undergraduate women have experienced offensive or harassing behavior from other students, university officials announced Wednesday.

The Penn State Sexual Misconduct Climate Survey was completed in fall 2015 by nearly 3,000 of the campus’ approximately 40,000 undergraduates, and more than 1,600 graduate students.

The survey says 28 percent of undergraduate women and 6 percent of men were the victim of at least one attempted or completed oral, vaginal or anal sexual assault, similar to the findings of 29 percent and 7 percent in a national study by the Association of American Universities.

About one out every five Penn State undergraduate women responding to the survey reported being sexually assaulted while they were too drunk or incapacitated to know what was happening.

Student affairs vice president Damon Sims said at a news conference in the HUB-Robeson Center student union that the results underscore the relationship between sexual misconduct and the use of alcohol and drugs, which he said was “a challenge that has been eternally vexing, it seems.”

The report said 30 percent of all undergrads reported that someone had tried to establish a romantic, sexual relationship despite the students’ attempts to discourage it. For women, the number was more than 40 percent. The unwanted advances included attempts to stroke, fondle or kiss the student.

The most common reason for not reporting incidents of stalking, violence or nonconsensual sexual contact was a feeling it would cause more trouble than it was worth. Significant numbers of students also cited embarrassment and a desire not to cause trouble for the perpetrator.

The survey found undergraduate women are experiencing the most problems with sexual attitudes and behavior, but also recorded significant rates of problems across gender lines, among different sexual persuasions and by graduate students.

Some form of stalking behavior, including being spied on, having someone show up unwanted or being given unwanted gifts, was experienced by 21 percent of undergrads and 12 percent of grad students.

Violent behavior by intimate partners or dates was reported by 12 percent of undergraduates and 7 percent of graduate students. Across all categories of victims, the most common offender by far was a male Penn State student.

Among undergraduate respondents, 56 percent were women and 5 percent lesbian, gay or bisexual. About 41 percent lived on campus.

Penn State president Eric Barron said he hoped to make progress with efforts that include a current focus on training people in “bystander intervention” so more will take action when they witness dangerous incidents.

“You have my pledge,” Barron said. “Sexual misconduct on our campuses will not go unchecked in our community.”

University officials said follow-up surveys will be conducted on a regular basis.

The climate survey, which cost the school $35,000 and also produced results for all its campuses, was among 18 policy or procedural recommendations contained in a 2015 task force report on how the school deals with sexual misconduct.

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