1 in 10 female students at Utah State University experience sex assault, survey finds

While most students feel safe, the majority don’t know how to file a Title IX complaint of sexual misconduct.<br>

Leah Hogsten | Tribune file photo Old Main Building at Utah State University. Most USU students feel safe on campus, according to a recent survey, but 7.4 percent — including 1 in 10 women — say they have experienced unwanted sexual contact since enrolling at the Logan school.

Most Utah State University students feel safe on campus, according to a recent survey, but 7.4 percent — including 1 in 10 women — say they have experienced unwanted sexual contact since enrolling at the Logan school.

Among the students who experienced assault, 90 percent said their attacker was an acquaintance — typically a fellow student — but only 5 percent filed a formal report with the school.

Those results were highlighted in a report released Wednesday by USU administrators after an April campus climate survey. Forty-five percent of the student body responded.

“We needed a better understanding of where we were in terms of addressing the problem of sexual misconduct on campus,” USU president Noelle Cockett said in a prepared statement. “The survey results give us a clearer picture of how we can better prevent and respond as a university, and a way to measure if we’re making a difference over time.”

The majority of survey participants indicated that they were unaware of how to file a complaint with USU’s Title IX office, which oversees investigations into sexual assault and compliance with a federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in higher education.

And low percentages of student victims reported taking advantage of campus support services, according to the report, including 23 percent who sought counseling, 11 percent who sought medical care, 7 percent who sought advocacy services and 6 percent who requested special accommodations.

“The survey results highlight the ways we can improve, and we’re already making progress in many areas,” Cockett said. “It is heart-wrenching to know there are campus resources not being used by victims.”

USU’s students participated at a significantly higher rate than students at other Utah universities. About 14 percent of University of Utah students responded to its campus climate survey; for the second year in a row, Westminster College has declined to publish the results of its survey due to inadequate responses.

Amanda DeRito, USU’s sexual misconduct information coordinator, said the results will set a baseline to compare against future campus climate surveys. The school plans to conduct the survey every two years.

She said the anonymous surveys are critical for the planning and promotion of sex assault prevention by including students who would otherwise decline to report their experiences to campus staff.

“Having it in a survey really provides us an enormous amount of information that we can use in designing our efforts,” she said.

Administrators were pleased with the survey’s participation rate, DeRito said, but concerned with the high reported rates of harassment.

“Any sexual assault is one too many,” she said. “At any rate, it would be too high.”

The low awareness and use of campus support services was particularly troubling, DeRito said, and will likely be a focal point for resources and attention as the university responds to the survey results.

“That was one of the things that surprised us most,” she said.

The survey, as well as the creation of a Sexual Violence Task Force — led by Cockett — follow criticisms of USU’s response to allegations of sexual assault.

In the past two years, USU students have admitted to assaulting women at fraternity houses, leading to a lawsuit against the school. And former USU football player Torrey Green has been charged with rape, forcible sex abuse and aggravated kidnapping for the alleged assaults of seven women.

 An internal review launched by the university determined it “fell short” in its response to assault claims made against Green in 2015. Administrators updated policies to ensure amnesty and confidentiality for victims and launched Cockett‘s task force to oversee future efforts aimed at improving campus safety.

“Universities should be havens of diversity of thought, discovery and engagement where students are free from any form of sexual misconduct,” Cockett said. “Moving forward, our goal is to expand our prevention efforts, bring attention to the important victim resources we provide and do our best for every student who comes to us with an allegation of sexual misconduct.”