Sexual Assaults At UW Higher Than What's Officially Reported

Apr 20, 2018

The #metoo movement might have given the impression that disclosures of sexual violence are more out in the open. But Matt Gray, a clinical psychology professor, says in actuality very few survivors officially report what they’ve experienced, and that’s true at the University of Wyoming as well. Tennessee Watson spoke with Professor Gray, who recently completed a campus climate survey looking at the prevalence of sexual misconduct on campus.

Tennessee Watson: So where does your sense that people aren't making official reports but that sexual violence is happening; where does that come from?

Matt Gray: People don't realize that here and everywhere else in America the great majority of sexual assault survivors do not report. And the good thing about the survey that we used, it's a nationally used the most widely used survey of sexual assault experiences on college campuses. It asks about who have you disclosed to, and we can see that 10 percent of survivors haven't told anybody. And we can see that of survivors who have told somebody--the great majority, not surprisingly when you think about it, have told close friends or roommates or romantic partners or parents or guardians or other family members.

TW: And what is the percentage of people that indicate that they told a friend?

MG: 89.9 percent of our sexual assault survivors in this survey indicated that they had reported to a close friend. So 10 percent of survivors are not even telling their closest friend that this has happened to them. And if we look at roommate that drops down to 50 percent. Somebody you live with if they were assaulted you have a coin flip chance of them having disclosed to you or knowing anything about it. By the time you start to get to campus entities be they Dean of Students, campus therapist which I am, those numbers are pretty small. We see about 10 percent of people have reported.

And so we just have to recognize that the number of people who come through our door formally with one of these experiences pales in comparison to the number of people who've experienced sexual violence. What we can and should do is do everything that we can to make visible mechanisms to report, make evident resources and information that might be available should they report.

Currently UW has a campaign called "Report It" that centers around a Web site with an overwhelming amount of information. On the flip side the more concise flier about sexual misconduct from the Dean of Students Office gives a web address for a document outlining what to expect from the investigation process. But that document doesn't exist.

MG: But even if we quadrupled the number of people that were reporting formally to campus entities--be they therapists or Dean of Students or who have you--we would still not be capturing the majority of sexual assault survivors.

And if UW successfully got more survivors to come forward who would respond? Right now there's one full time advocate on staff, one full time investigator in the Dean of Students office. There are two people in the Title IX office who can respond to reports of sexual violence but they also handle cases of all kinds of gender discrimination, for a campus with close to 18000 students staff and faculty. Gray says climate surveys help universities to see those kinds of blind spots.

TW: I know that you are still analyzing this data but from the first pass that you've done what would you say are the big takeaways so far?

MG: So our findings are largely consistent with what we see at most other universities.

TW: So what are we looking at?

MG: So the broad definition of sexual assault is going to be any type of nonconsensual sexual contact to include groping, touching, on up to completed rape.

Those numbers are typical of most universities but unfortunately staggering. If we look at all those different variants, all those different types of sexual assault, campus body as a whole about 27 percent of respondents are reporting having experienced one of those types of sexual assault. With women this is 34 percent, with men it's 13 percent and gender nonconforming 50 percent. To contextualize those: there are some universities that are higher than us. There are some that are lower. They're all kind of in that range but still in my view if you're talking about a low of 15 percent on up to a high of 40 percent and most places somewhere in the 20s, that's what we see when we do sexual violence research. That is the nature of sexual assault prevalence on college campuses.

TW: And I think oftentimes examinations of this issue are approached by asking survivors what they've experienced. What do we know from your data about perpetrators on campus?

MG: So those rates are like other universities seemingly quite low.

The numbers are low Gray explained because even with anonymous surveys, perpetrators are still reluctant to admit criminal behavior. And because sexual violence is often caused by a lack of knowledge of consent, people don't see their actions as violations. 

MG: We have 3 percent of males that if asked about specific types of sexual assault perpetration did acknowledge that they have engaged in one or more of these behaviors on at least one occasion. But if you extrapolate those numbers across males and females who acknowledge having engaged in some type of non-consensual behavior that rate is 1.8 percent. But if you look at that number would be given that we had 2,000 people in our sample and there's 10,000 people on campus that would be the equivalent of 173 people who have knowledge that they have done some type of nonconsensual perpetration in their time at the University of Wyoming, and to the extent that most those people probably haven't perpetrated against just one individual, the number gets pretty big pretty quickly. That's a perfect example of how a seemingly small number should certainly be something that we're concerned about.

So far Gray has released the preliminary results to NO MORE--UW's sexual violence prevention and education task force. He predicts the final analysis will be available in early June and he will be watching closely to see what the University of Wyoming does with that information. But he's optimistic prevention efforts will improve.