Survey finds 41 FSU students have been sexually assaulted while at college: Significant drop in survey participants

According to a campus climate survey administered this February, 41 FSU students have experienced sexual contact without their consent since matriculating into the school.

Melinda Stoops, dean of students, said in an email to students that the survey, which was distributed via email, was undertaken to “help understand student perspectives and experiences related to sexual assault.”

According to www.justice.gov, sexual assault is any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient.

While 516 students agreed to take the survey, they were not required to answer every question.

Kim Dexter, director of equal opportunity, title IX and ADA compliance, said there was “a significant drop-off in the response rate this year.”

According to feedback provided by student leaders, the length of the survey was a big deterrent for some students, said Dexter, adding some were also confused by a number of questions.

Stoops said there is an increased pressure to conduct campus climate surveys and eventually, colleges will be required to administer one annually.

The survey was provided by a company called EverFi, and was similar to last year’s survey. It was slightly altered, with some questions being rephrased and others added.

“Even if you just tweak [the question] a little bit … the person is not really answering the same question, so it may not be generating the same reaction,” said Stoops.

The FSU administration chose this survey because it is included in its existing consortium rate with EverFi, and did not cost any extra money, according to Stoops.

She said, “In the long run, one thing we’ll have to make a decision about is whether we stick with this survey or we find a different survey. There’s not a lot of good options out there right now because it’s sort of still being developed, and some of the options I would consider outrageously expensive, where you’re spending tens of thousands of dollars for a survey. Because we get this as part of our consortium program, it’s a nice introduction for us to use this.”

This year, Dexter said FSU was provided with the raw data as well as the summary data. “That might give us a little bit more information about specific factors that we just couldn’t be aware of in the past – potentially the impact on the LGBT community or whether persons of color are experiencing violence at a greater rate.”

Unwanted sexual contact

Forty-one of 301 students said they had experienced sexual assault since enrolling at FSU.

Five of 45 students reported being physically threatened or forced into sexual contact since the start of this academic year.

Patty Cooney, a freshman, said, “The numbers are low, but it seems really high because you want it to be zero.”

She added support groups and self-defense classes could help FSU become a safer campus.

Olivia Pedisini, a freshman, said, “I see it in the T.V. shows. I didn’t think it was on our campus – especially that many.”

She added she wouldn’t think sexual assault exists on FSU’s campus “given the climate.”

Eleven students were physically threatened or forced into sexual contact before the start of this academic year, and three students were physically forced into sexual contact both before and after the start of this academic year.

Ten of 45 students indicated someone forced them into sexual contact by using verbal or non-physical coercion before the start of this academic year. Eight students said someone coerced them into sexual contact after the start of this academic year, and six experienced this both before and after the start of this academic year.

Freshman Lisa Cannavino said the results of the survey are “shocking” because “we have a small campus. It’s really small – everybody knows everybody.”

Eight students said they suspected someone had sexual contact with them while they were unable to consent due to incapacitation before the start of this academic year. Five students said they experienced this after the start of this academic year, and six students said they were not sure.

Stoops said there was an increase in the percent of students who reported being forced into sexual contact compared to last year’s survey.

She added it is hard to know whether the increase is due to a rise in incidents, or a rise in reporting.

“If this was accurate, that more people were in fact assaulted, that would be very concerning. If it’s an increase in reporting, to me that’s not concerning. It means we’re doing our job,” she said.

Cristina Lombardo, a sophomore, said, “For me, I feel like you don’t hear about it as much as it happens. I probably heard about something like that like once or twice this whole year. … So that’s crazy that there was more.”

She added people may not take the issue of sexual assault “seriously” because they are unaware of how many incidents actually occur.

Freshman Kathleen Houle said she didn’t think sexual assault was happening on campus. “Everyone just seems so friendly.”

Dexter said the drop in respondents could be significant to the survey results as well.

“We had 10 percent of what we had last year for responses. So it is possible that this year, when only 45 people responded, the people who were more likely to answer that question are people who had actually experienced sexual assault. Whereas last year, it may have been more of the general population, comprised of victims and survivors, and non-victims and survivors,” she said.

The survey results also show that sexual assault is happening before students matriculate into FSU – mainly in the K-12 system, according to Dexter.

While 41 students said they have been sexually assaulted since enrolling at FSU, 85 said they were sexually assaulted before attending FSU.

“Now certainly, there are transfer students who answered this question. We’ve had folks who were not in school for a period of time before coming here,” said Dexter. “But we know, we absolutely know from this number, that students are experiencing sexual assault in the K-12 system. So if there is a way for us to help share our expertise with our K-12 partners, then perhaps we can impact the outcomes for our future students.”

Kayleigh MacMaster, a freshman, said, “It’s not as horrible as you would think it would be, but it’s also not a good number at all. It should be zero.”

Drugs and alcohol

According to the survey, three students reported being given drugs without their consent prior to a sexual assault incident, and three were not sure if they had been given drugs.

Stoops said last year’s survey revealed 9 percent of FSU students had been given drugs without their consent prior to being sexually assaulted, while this year, 23.8 percent of students who responded to the question reported that experience.

“That’s really concerning to me because that’s almost one in four, whereas last year, it was closer to 10 percent,” she said.

She added the best course of action for FSU administrators is to educate the FSU community.

“I think education can be really powerful in this area,” she said.

Nine students said their sexual assault incident involved the perpetrator’s use of drugs, while two students said their incident involved their own use of drugs.

Twenty-two students stated their incident involved the perpetrator’s use of alcohol, and 26 said their incident involved their own use of alcohol.

Dexter said the number of people who experienced unwanted sexual contact while incapacitated is “usually the more significant number” for FSU administrators.

An incapacitated person is unable to consent, according to Dexter.

“So, how many people are experiencing these incidents while they are incapacitated versus under the influence? Under the influence – It’s certainly not something we would recommend, to engage in any sexual contact while someone is under the influence of alcohol or drugs, but it doesn’t necessarily mean incapacitation where somebody could not consent,” she said.

The perpetrators

Eleven students said the perpetrator was an acquaintance, eight students said they were non-romantic friends and seven said they were ex-romantic partners, according to the survey.

The survey found 23 perpetrators were fellow students.

Thirty-seven students said the perpetrators were male, and two said they were female.

Thirteen students said the incident occurred on campus.

Dexter said, “We do find consistently that many folks who are reporting this behavior, their perpetrators have been people that they have had some sort of current or previous romantic relationship with. Certainly not all, but it’s happening.”

Reporting

Lorretta Holloway, vice president for enrollment and student development, said it is often easier for victims to talk to a peer as opposed to a faculty member or administrator.

“I’m a responsible employee, so there are certain things I have to tell people … whereas your roommate is not.”

She added it is not the responsibility of the victim to report the incident.

“It’s something that happened to you. You have every right to talk to whomever you please, or not talk to,” she said. “They have already been victimized. They are not responsible for anybody else but themselves.”

According to the survey, 32 students who experienced unwanted sexual contact told a close friend. Fifteen students said they told a roommate and 11 said they told a parent or guardian.

Five students said they used the school’s formal procedures to report the incident. Three students said they felt they were treated fairly by the school, and one said “yes, somewhat.”

One student said FSU’s formal procedures “helped a lot,” and three students said the school “helped, but could’ve helped more.”

Four students said they did not tell anyone because “it’s a private matter – wanted to deal with it on my own,” and four students said they thought they would be blamed for the incident. Four students said, “I wanted to forget it happened.”

Freshman Eric Duog said students can be reluctant to report an incident because “they are afraid their identities will be revealed,” which could “make life difficult for them.”

Kat Ceaver, a freshman, said, “A lot of people at the same time are also like, ‘Oh, it will blow over. It will go away.’”

Following the incident, 30 students experienced anxiety, 26 experienced flashbacks and 22 experienced fearfulness and trouble sleeping.

Twenty-five students said the incident had a negative impact on their intimate relationships. Twenty students said it had a negative impact on their social relationships and 18 students said the incident negatively impacted their schoolwork.

Thirteen students said they sought counseling services.

Erin Dempsey, a sophomore, said the results “are some really scary data.”

She added not everyone responds to the surveys put out or reports an incident. “We just started the medical amnesty policy, so I know previous to this policy, a lot of people wouldn’t report. … It makes you wonder what has gone underreported.”

Student Trustee Fernando Rodriguez said, “We need to change who is involved in the process for sexual assault reports because a lot of victim-blaming and cover-ups can take place. We need to make this environment easier for people to report, and if people are not comfortable with the people they report to, then it’s all for nothing.”

While Dexter said she believes the survey numbers are a “good representation of what our students are experiencing,” based on the survey, a number of sexual assault incidents are not being reported through FSU’s formal process.

“There are a number of reasons why folks decide not to report incidents of sexual assault – things like feelings of shame, feeling that they’re partially to blame for the incident. There can be a fear of retaliation. There are some folks who feel nothing will be done,” said Dexter.

She added, “There is a huge stigma attached to being a ‘sexual assault victim.’ That doesn’t necessarily make people want to come forward.”

Stalking and intimate partner violence

The survey found 51 students have received unsolicited emails or texts, and 29 have received unsolicited phone calls.

Thirty-six students have been followed or spied on.

Twenty-five students said someone tried to communicate with them against their will. Twenty-two said someone showed up at places where they had no business being and 13 said they had been sent unsolicited letters or written correspondence.

Eight students said someone left unwanted items for them to find, and seven said someone vandalized their property or destroyed something they loved.

Forty-two students said these incidents occurred before the academic year, while 16 said the incident occurred after the start of this academic year. Twenty-four students said they experienced these behaviors both before and after the start of this academic year.

Since becoming an FSU student, four students said their romantic partner threatened to hit them or throw something at them occasionally, three said their partner exhibited this behavior frequently and one said their partner did so very frequently.

Five students said their partner pushed, grabbed or shoved them occasionally, and three said their partner exhibited this behavior frequently.

Eight students reported their partner said things to scare them occasionally, five said their partner exhibited this behavior frequently and two said their partner did so very frequently.

Nine students said their partner pressured them into having sex in a way they didn’t want to occasionally, two said their partner exhibited this behavior frequently and one said their partner did so very frequently.

While 52 students reported these behaviors occurring before the start of this academic year, 28 said these incidents occurred after the start of this academic year.

Dexter said there has been an increase in reports concerning “red flags for relationship violence.”

She added some behaviors might not be “problematic” if they happen one time, “but if these are happening consistently in relationships, then these are abusive relationships.”

She said the question is, “How do we communicate to students, ‘This is what a healthy relationship looks like?’ If it’s not a healthy relationship, there are ways to address it, or that it’s OK to leave a relationship. It’s OK to not be in a relationship.”

Abusive relationships are frequently “intentionally constructed by the abused in such a way to prevent a victim from seeking support or leaving the relationship,” she said. “It is further complicated by the fact that we can often only see isolated behaviors and not understand the full extent of the abuse.”

Dexter said if someone suspects a friend or loved one is in an abusive relationship, they should let the person know they are there for support but understand if they don’t use their support.

If someone witnesses physical violence, calling the police is the safest method of intervening. Dexter said witnessing abusive behavior can also be “very challenging,” and she encourages those who have witnessed such behavior to seek support for themselves as well.

Prevention and bystander

intervention

One hundred eight students said they were “completely confident” they would call 911 if they heard someone yelling, “Help.”

Ninety-two of 283 students said they were “completely confident” they would help a drunk person who is being brought to a bedroom by a group of people.

Thirty-one of 277 students said it was “very likely” they would say something to a friend who is taking a drunk person back to their room, and 40 of 278 students said it was “very likely” they would check in with a friend who seemed drunk and was going to a bedroom with someone.

Twenty-six of 276 students said it was “very likely” they would confront a friend who planned to give someone alcohol in order to have sex with them.

Additionally, 21 of 276 survey respondents said it was “very likely” they would take action if they witnessed someone taking advantage of another person sexually.

Thirty of 274 students said it was “very likely” they would not report a sexual assault out of concern they or others would be punished for infractions such as underage drinking.

FSU offers a two-hour workshop at various times throughout the year called, “Bringing in the Bystander,” according to Dexter.

She said FSU administrators have focused on training student leaders such as RAs, Foundations Peer Mentors, SGA members and pre-season athletes because “research has shown that people are more likely to intervene if they have seen the behavior role modeled.”

She added there are many factors which can influence someone’s decision to intervene in a situation, including risks to their own safety, whether they are alone or with others, prior knowledge of or relationships with individuals and stereotypes.

Senior Connor Bowen said the number of students who have been sexually assaulted is “surprising, and it’s not. I’d say that’s a big number for a campus this small.”

He added, “Sometimes, people don’t know that ‘no’ means ‘no,’ and sometimes, people don’t know ‘no’ is an answer.”

Cameron Grieves, a sophomore, said the number of FSU students who have been sexually assaulted is “disturbing.”

He added, “The school is not at fault for this. It’s an individual action. I don’t know what we can really do to change the climate here because that’s kind of a problem in our society as a whole. … I don’t know if any one school can tackle it on its own.”

SGA President Dan Costello said, “The only acceptable number would be zero students experiencing sexual assault. It is clear that there is plenty of work left to accomplish in eliminating sexual assault.”

He said the University should “continue to make strides in offering education to prevent sexual assault, such as the Bystander Intervention trainings and the consent sessions that were implemented at Orientation last summer.”

Rodriguez said FSU has done “a great job in growing as a socially conscious collective” on the issue of sexual assault. However, there is not “enough administrative policy change that actually helps.”

He added, “There are people who have no business talking to victims because they took a two-day training over the summer on sexual assault. I think we have a very damaging system for victims in all universities, but I’ve heard similar things about this school.”

President F. Javier Cevallos said he finds “any occurrence of sexual assault in our community deeply disturbing,” adding the survey illustrates how far FSU still has to go in order to end sexual violence on campus.

“We have taken many positive steps in recent years, and we are committed to creating and sustaining a culture of prevention and education, where expectations are clear and resources are readily available,” he said.

“Ultimately, it is on all of us to end sexual violence,” he added.

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