About 20 percent of Princeton students responding to a survey said they experienced some form of inappropriate sexual contact during the last academic year, while 8 percent of responding female undergraduates said they had been raped. Those are among the findings released Sept. 29 from Princeton’s “We Speak” survey on sexual misconduct.
The results — similar to those at other colleges, including Princeton’s peers — are “disturbingly and unacceptably high,” President Eisgruber ’83 said in a letter to the University community. “The findings at Princeton are heartbreaking,” he wrote. “We must create a climate in which all members of our community respect and care for one another; we must provide students with the information they need to get help and support if they are the victims of misconduct; and we must ensure that our disciplinary processes are fair, effective, and compassionate.”
The “We Speak” survey — considered Princeton’s most comprehensive examination of sexual misconduct on campus — was completed by 52 percent of nearly 7,900 undergraduate and graduate students last spring. (To view the report, go to http://bit.ly/wespeak2015.)
Among its findings:
- About 20 percent of the students — including 34 percent of undergraduate women, 14 percent of undergraduate men, 19 percent of female graduate students, and 6 percent of male graduate students — reported experiencing inappropriate behavior last year, including sexual assault, stalking, abusive intimate relationships, and sexual harassment.
- Nonconsensual sexual penetration — rape — was reported by 4 percent of responding students, including 8 percent of undergraduate women. If that figure is representative, it could mean that as many as 200 female undergraduates were raped last year.
- One in four undergraduate respondents experienced at least one form of inappropriate sexual behavior, while one in nine graduate students did.
- LGBT students were twice as likely to be sexually assaulted as students who identify as heterosexual. In total, 13 percent of responding students said they were sexually assaulted.
- Sixty-eight percent of students who reported being a victim of sexual assault said that alcohol was a factor when the assault occurred.
- Approximately 70 percent of male respondents agreed that Princeton is doing enough to protect the safety of its students, compared to 58 percent of undergraduate women and 52 percent of graduate women.
According to the University’s annual public-safety report, eight cases of rape were reported to Princeton officials in 2014, far fewer than the number indicated by the survey.
“That’s very concerning,” said Vice Provost Michele Minter. “We would like students to feel that they can fully come forward and use our disciplinary process, which uses a different evidence standard and is a much more accessible process than the criminal-justice system. But even so, many students don’t come forward.”
Surveyed students provided several common reasons for not reporting sexual misconduct. Some believed that the incident was not serious enough to report; some wanted to deal with the situation on their own; and some worried about staying focused on schoolwork. About 55 percent of students who experienced unwanted sexual contact did tell someone about it — most often a close friend, roommate, or romantic partner.
A day after the survey was released, the Faculty-Student Committee on Sexual Misconduct, co-chaired by Minter and English professor Deborah Nord, held an open meeting in McCosh 10 to allow community members to share their opinions and ideas.
Thomas Clark ’18, one of about 20 people who attended the meeting, spoke about being unsure of his role as a bystander when he saw intoxicated couples walking back to their dorms after a late night on the Street.
“You don’t know if real consent is there,” Clark said. “I don’t feel like we as undergraduate students have enough resources to intervene. There’s no protocol, no social script of what one should do in that situation, no phone number you can call. ... I think it would be helpful if the University had more guidelines about what you can do in those situations as a bystander.”
In his letter, Eisgruber cited the launch of Princeton’s UMatter health and well-being initiative to promote safety on campus, with a focus on addressing high-risk drinking, interpersonal violence, and mental-health concerns. (See story, page 10.)
Minter said the committee will consider additional programs and interventions on campus as it looks at ways to address issues raised in the survey.
While the survey results “are not surprising if you’ve been keeping up with the subject over the last several years,” Nord said, “they are extremely upsetting and grim, and it’s difficult to say if there is a straight path to making this all better.”