Student survey finds decline in reports of inappropriate sexual behavior

Students receive information on Princeton’s UMatter campaign, which promotes bystander intervention and healthy choices, in September.
Courtesy Princeton UMatter

A new student survey has found that the number of incidents of sexual misconduct has declined since last year and that students are more aware of University resources and victim support.

The survey was the second in as many years — a step taken in response to a determination by the U.S. Department of Education that Princeton had failed to respond “promptly and equitably” to complaints of sexual violence.

Results, released Nov. 10, found that 15 percent of students last year experienced one or more forms of inappropriate sexual behavior (which includes sexual assault, stalking, abusive intimate relationships, and sexual harassment), down from 20 percent the previous year. “The numbers are still too high, but this is the direction we want them to be moving in,” said Vice Provost Michele Minter. The rate was the highest among undergraduate women (28 percent), followed by graduate women (17 percent), undergraduate men (9 percent), and graduate men (5 percent). Complete survey results can be found at

Nine percent of all students reported experiencing sexual assault, with that number rising to 19 percent for undergraduate women. Two percent overall reported being a victim of rape, according to the survey, including 4 percent of undergraduate women.

The survey found heightened student awareness of University resources and support, and more than two-thirds said they would intervene if they saw others sexually intimidating or bothering someone in a public space on campus.

Other findings included:

  • Lesbian, gay, and bisexual students were nearly twice as likely to experience inappropriate sexual behavior and nearly three times as likely to be raped as heterosexual students.
  • Among those who experienced sexual assault, about two-thirds of undergraduate women, undergraduate men, and graduate men said the person who had assaulted them had been using alcohol or a combination of alcohol and drugs; for graduate women the figure was 56 percent.
  • Ten percent of graduate women and 1 percent of graduate men experienced sexual harassment (a slight increase from last year). Forty-eight percent of those incidents took place in an academic or work setting, and 52 percent involved a co-worker, a professor or instructor, a staff member, or a postdoc.

Administrators said more students are using University resources — like the Sexual Harassment/Assault Advising, Resources, and Education (SHARE) office — to cope with experiences of sexual misconduct. SHARE director Jackie Deitch-Stackhouse said a student peer program and an initiative called UMatter, which focuses on bystander intervention, have had positive results.

SHARE peers — who raise awareness about issues of sexual misconduct, provide bystander education, and help connect students with the SHARE office — span a wide range of groups and social circles, Deitch-Stackhouse said. In some cases, she said, their work encourages students who are considering professional help to contact the SHARE office.

Deitch-Stackhouse and Minter lauded efforts by the eating clubs to work with University staff.

“The eating clubs’ role right now in combating sexual misconduct is much greater than people are willing to see, because it’s easy to paint eating clubs in a bad way,” said Colonial Club president Christopher Yu ’17, who chairs the Interclub Council. The ICC has discussed the possibility of not allowing members who have been suspended for sexual misconduct to rejoin a club or of prohibiting people who have committed sexual misconduct from entering clubs, he said.

Other organizations on campus are also working to raise awareness about interpersonal violence. One group, SpeakOut, meets weekly to discuss sexual-misconduct cases in the news and related issues on campus.

Students across different years and genders offered mixed views, but many said the University does a good job overall of promoting awareness of what sexual misconduct is and what resources are available for students.

“In my four years here, I’ve noticed a trend toward being OK with talking about [sexual misconduct],” said Luke Pfleger ’17. “The WeSpeak surveys are sobering in the sense that you realize how many people are affected by this issue, but good in that they help people come together and realize that there is an issue.”

Patrick Boroughs ’18 recently completed a mandatory sexual-misconduct online-training session that the University requires all juniors to take. “It was good to get a reminder, especially because a lot of that training happens during freshman year,” he said.

Emely DeJesus ’17 said that while she has received many emails about initiatives like WeSpeak and UMatter, she has seen less information about issues beyond general awareness and knowledge of sexual misconduct. “Unless you’ve actually had a situation where you need to be directly involved [in reporting sexual misconduct], you don’t know how the system works or how Princeton feels about things,” she said.

Colleen O’Gorman ’17, the president of SHARE for about two years, said more students are talking about interpersonal violence and sexual misconduct. “It’s definitely a harder issue to ignore,” she said.

Minter pointed out that for the second year in a row, survey data found that sophomores have the greatest odds of experiencing sexual misconduct. She said the University is considering how to provide more support for sophomores.

Ten individuals were found by a University investigative panel to be responsible for at least one sexual misconduct violation during the 2015–16 academic year. Two students were expelled after being found responsible for rape; employees found responsible in four sexual-misconduct cases no longer work at Princeton; and one alumnus was banned from campus for sexual assault.