CUNY’s Sexual Violence Campus Climate Survey

Executive Summary

New York State’s Enough is Enough law requires colleges and universities in the state to conduct biannual campus climate surveys to measure the prevalence of sexual assault on campus, assess students’ attitudes and awareness about sexual misconduct and how to report it on campus, and help schools identify ways to address the problem.

CUNY’s Sexual Violence Campus Climate Survey, conducted from Feb. 21 through March 25, 2018, was sent to 115,100 randomly selected students. The web-based survey could be taken on smartphones, tablets or desktops. We received 13,658 responses for a response rate of 12 percent. We administered a confidential survey and employed a common survey research technique known as weighting to allow us to report results that are generalizable to the entire CUNY student population.

The survey included questions to capture information in 11 topic areas required by New York State’s Enough is Enough statute. Those areas include questions about students’ knowledge of, attitudes about and experiences with campus sexual violence and sexual harassment, and how they respond if they or somebody they know are affected by those behaviors.

The student experience as spotlighted in CUNY’s Sexual Violence Campus Climate Survey Report is that of a University system in which a majority of students commute to their campus. Reports by CUNY students of sexual harassment, stalking, intimate partner violence (IPV) and sexual assault at CUNY or CUNY-affiliated events or programs are significantly lower than rates reported by residential colleges, especially those with large athletics programs and widespread participation in Greek life. The majority of incidents of sexual misconduct experienced by CUNY students take place off campus and not at CUNY-affiliated programs and events. In cases of sexual assault, CUNY students report that the majority of perpetrators are neither enrolled at, nor employed by CUNY. Most students demonstrate an applied understanding of affirmative consent, and say they know their rights and where to seek help in the event of sexual violence, though a majority do not know about their campus Title IX coordinator and other formal channels available to report an incident or to obtain support. Students who receive trainings on sexual violence say they cover key topics, but our findings show that, at the time of the survey, participation rates were low.

Here are selected highlights from the survey findings:

  • Students largely feel safe on campus and convey a strong degree of trust in the institution.
    • Nine in 10 students say they feel safe on their campus, and more than eight in 10 trust their CUNY college to treat a report of sexual violence seriously, conduct a fair investigation and provide needed supports during an investigation.
  • Students’ responses convey a disconnect between their knowledge of CUNY’s formal reporting procedures for sexual misconduct and their applied understanding of the channels available to them, and concepts such as affirmative consent.
    • Just one in three students say they are knowledgeable about CUNY’s formal reporting procedures for sexual misconduct, and 40 percent say they are not at all knowledgeable.
    • Only 37 percent of students say they are familiar with CUNY’s policy on affirmative consent, but a high percentage of students, 97 percent, say they would be likely to stop having sex if a partner wanted them to stop, even if the sex started consensually, and 96 percent say they would be likely to not have sex with a partner so affected by drugs or alcohol that they could not give consent.
  • A majority of students, 74 percent, say they do not know if their campus has a Title IX coordinator. Fewer than one-quarter, 23 percent, say they know how to get information about the roles and responsibilities of a Title IX coordinator, and only 16 percent say they are familiar or very familiar with the roles and responsibilities of a Title IX coordinator.
  • Students who participated in trainings say they are thorough and introduced them to CUNY’s policies, reporting procedures, Title IX coordinators and other resources, and explained the meaning of applicable concepts such as affirmative consent, but only one out of four students says they attended a training.
  • The majority of incidents of sexual misconduct experienced by CUNY students took place off campus and involved a perpetrator who was not enrolled at or employed by CUNY. When an incident of sexual violence occurs, CUNY students say they are far more likely to tell a friend or a family member than college official. Of the 7 percent of respondents who reported they were touched in a sexual way without their consent in the previous 12 months, 71 percent said they were a CUNY student at the time. Of the 2 percent of respondents who reported they were sexually penetrated without their consent during the previous 12 months, 63 percent said they were enrolled in CUNY at the time.
  • Unlike others of its kind, CUNY’s survey contains a section on intimate partner violence and its effect on student performance. While the prevalence of IPV is low, the reported incidents impact considerably on attendance, class performance and sustained enrollment. Though two percent of respondents said they received threats by a former or current sexual partner to harm them or somebody they love, 59 percent of those who were CUNY students at the time of such an incident said the threats prevented them from studying, and 46 percent said they missed or delayed a test, or were prevented from handing in an assignment on time.

The survey is designed to capture students’ experiences with sexual violence, along with their awareness of the channels and resources in place to help them report those experiences and cope with their effects. We are heartened by the high percentage of respondents who expressed confidence they would be able to get help in the event they experienced or became aware of sexual misconduct, along with their belief that CUNY would treat a report of sexual violence seriously. At the same time, we are concerned with, and remain committed to remedy, students’ overall lack of knowledge about the formal channels in place to report sexual violence and initiate a meaningful response.

In the summer of 2018, after the survey was administered but before the data were analyzed, CUNY introduced a dynamic online training tool, Sexual and Interpersonal Violence Prevention & Response Course (SPARC), developed by the State University of New York in partnership with CUNY to assist colleges and universities in the prevention of sexual, interpersonal and related violence. SPARC is offered to all students, and incoming students are now required to take SPARC training, and their compliance is carefully monitored and enforced. The training is consistent with the requirements mandated in Enough is Enough, and can be customized by colleges so that students are trained by their own faculty and peers. To be clear, however, SPARC is designed to be but one piece of a broader effort to increase awareness among the entire university community of important issues surrounding the matter of sexual violence. CUNY acknowledges that we need to minimize on-campus incidents of sexual misconduct while providing all students and staff the tools to help deal with the consequences of all forms of sexual violence.

The City University of New York will use the results of this survey to further improve our ability to ensure a safe, healthy and nondiscriminatory learning environment for all CUNY students.

Getting Help and Stopping Sexual Violence on Campus: If you would like information on the issues contained in this survey, please go to CUNY’s Enough is Enough: Combating Sexual Misconduct website. This website provides resources and contact information for all CUNY campuses; the website also includes community-based and on-line resources. You can link to your college’s webpage which provides contact information for your Title IX Coordinator, a staff member with special training in helping students who are facing issues related to sexual harassment and sexual violence. You can also learn about how to report an incident, how to get medical or emotional support, confidentiality, and ways you can help stop sexual violence on campus. The webpages also contain links to important CUNY policies regarding sexual misconduct