2018 Sexual Misconduct survey results released in anticipation of 2022 survey

September 20, 2021

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State has released the results of the 2018 Sexual Misconduct Climate Survey, a comprehensive University-wide survey of students’ experiences with and attitudes about sexual misconduct, completed every three years.

According to the survey results, 19% of undergraduates and 7.1% of graduate/professional students at University Park reported being the victim of at least one instance or attempt of sexual assault, which is a slight increase of less than 1% from the 2015 survey. These findings vary by campus, and each campus will receive a report summarizing the data for their population.

A Town Hall will be held later this semester to discuss progress and the University’s ongoing commitment to these issues.  

“The data from this survey is invaluable and will guide our actions as we build on our educational programs and support resources for those who are impacted by sexual misconduct,” said Damon Sims, vice president for Student Affairs. “The University is committed to creating a safe, supportive campus climate that leaves no room for sexual assault or harassment. This survey is just one tool in the University’s efforts to address sexual misconduct.”

The survey was completed in fall 2018 and is a key tool in the ongoing effort to inform policy, student support, and educational programming across the University aimed at reducing sexual misconduct and improving the experience of all Penn State students. It was one of 18 recommendations made by the Task Force on Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment, which President Eric Barron appointed in 2014 to study the University’s resources for addressing sexual misconduct.

Distribution of the results from the 2018 survey were delayed due to staffing limitations during the analysis of data for all campuses, as well as unforeseen disruptions based on critical COVID-19-related needs.

The 2018 survey was completed by a representative sample of 8,620 students University-wide, including both undergraduates and graduate students at 23 of the University’s 24 locations. At University Park, 10,937 undergraduates and 3,000 graduate/professional students received the survey, and the response rate at University Park was 25.6% among undergraduates and 41.1% among graduate students.

Completely anonymous, voluntary and completed electronically, the survey covered a range of topics from whether a student feels safe from sexual harassment on or around campus to whether the student is aware of resources, such as Counseling and Psychological Services. Among the findings at University Park are that 78.5% of undergraduates and 83.5% of graduate/professional students feel safe from sexual harassment on or around campus, a slight increase from the 2015 survey.

Each of the 23 Penn State campuses where students were surveyed received a separate report related to the responses of their own campus participants. Specific data for each finding vary from campus to campus, and individual campuses may share their findings separately. All of the reports with a summary of findings can be found online here.

University Park findings include:

  • 68.3% of undergraduates and 73.6% of graduate/professional students said the University would take a report of sexual misconduct seriously.
  • 60.1% of undergraduates and 59.7% of graduate/professional students said the University would handle the report fairly.
  • 46.7% of undergraduates and 68.9% of graduate/professional students reported receiving written information about how to report an incident of sexual misconduct.
  • Among undergraduates, 27.1% of women, 6.1% of men, and 25.5% of sexual and gender diverse survey respondents said they had been the victim of at least one instance of sexual assault or attempt.
  • Among graduate/professional students, 11.2% of women, 2.7% of men, and 10.9% of sexual and gender diverse survey respondents said they had been the victim of at least one instance of sexual assault or attempt.
  • Among students who reported experiencing any type of sexual misconduct, 62.9% of women and 43.6% of men reported telling someone about the incident or incidents.
  • 33.3% of undergraduates and 21.1% of graduate/professional students said they “always” or “most of the time” asked someone who looks very upset at a party if they are OK or need help if they had been a bystander in that situation.
  • The most common reason cited as a barrier for not acting in a situation where sexual misconduct could occur or was occurring was “You didn’t have enough information to determine if it was concerning enough to intervene.” 68.7% of undergraduate students and 68% of graduate/professional students indicated this barrier as one of the top three barriers.

Other survey topics included students’ perceptions about the University’s response to reports of sexual misconduct; about their friends’ attitudes about what behavior is appropriate; how safe they feel; their awareness of resources available to students; and whether they had been pressured to establish an unwanted romantic or sexual relationship.

The next survey is scheduled to be conducted in the spring of 2022.

“The Student Affairs Research and Assessment office is in the planning stages for the next survey,” said Adam Christensen, director for Student Affairs Research and Assessment. “As part of this process, we are looking forward to engaging student leaders in the process to assist in vetting the survey instrument, as well as participate in discussions around the presentation of the final data.”

While racial identity was not analyzed in the first iteration of these reports, Student Affairs Research and Assessment intends to continue analysis of this data to determine any differential impact based on race and ethnicity. These demographics will be among the variables discussed prior to the administration of the 2022 survey.

“The data within the 2018 report is intended to align and parallel in structure with the 2015 data report; however, we recognize the importance of analyzing the perceptions and experiences around sexual misconduct at Penn State through a variety of demographic metrics, including racial identity,” said Christensen. “For the 2022 survey administration, the student representation, along with campus partners, will provide additional discussion, guidance and planning around additional voices and experiences that should be highlighted within both the survey and the resulting report. As a University and global community, we continue to evolve in these areas, and much has changed since 2018 that we will need to address moving forward.”

Since the previous survey was administered in 2015, Penn State has made progress in many areas related to sexual misconduct prevention and response, including increased staffing, additional education and prevention measures, and continued review of policies and processes.

The Gender Equity Center is hiring a full-time survivor advocate to advocate for any student who has experienced sexual misconduct, relationship violence, harassment or stalking, as well as a full-time education and outreach coordinator to develop and facilitate education and prevention programs across the University. In addition, the center is enhancing their prevention and programming efforts to ensure they are based in equity and inclusion.

In addition, a student advisory committee has been formed to work with the Office of Sexual Misconduct Prevention and Response. The committee is working with the office to review and enhance our informal resolution process, among other procedural processes that directly affect both parties involved in Title IX matters.

“We continually look to review and revise our polices,” said Chris Harris, Penn State’s Title IX coordinator, who helped convene the group and is working to identify student leaders to participate in the planning process for the next survey. “The results of this survey are very valuable as a piece of that effort. We know there can be significant trauma/or impact that can follow such crimes, and we are very appreciative of the students who are heavily invested in this process and the University’s Title IX efforts.”

The 2018 Sexual Misconduct Climate Survey was based on the Administration Researcher Campus Climate Collaborative (ARC3) survey, which was based on suggestions made by the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault. Penn State’s survey was administered by the Office of Student Affairs Research and Assessment, a unit of Penn State Student Affairs, which partnered with DatStat, a data research company the University has worked with on other survey projects.

Last Updated September 20, 2021