Today, a university-wide email went out from Harvard President Drew Faust detailing the initial results of a survey completed by Harvard students which asked about individual experiences with sexual assault and campus perceptions of sexual assault.
The early findings are disturbing. Of female Harvard College seniors, 62.8% responded. And of those, 16% (or 90 women) reported they had experienced penetration or attempted penetration without their consent during their years in college. Thirty-one percent (or 172 women) said they had experienced some form of nonconsensual sexual contact since starting college. Both the rates of reported rapes and other sexual assaults were significantly higher than the average in a recent survey of 27 schools.
The results were collected in April as part of a broad survey of students across Harvard’s schools, which included both undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. Harvard was one of the schools that conducted sexual assault surveys on behalf of the Association of American Universities (AAU); the research itself was conducted by social science firm Westat. In aggregate, the AAU found that over 20% of female undergrads polled had been victims of sexual assault and misconduct, while 11% had experienced incidents of attempted or completed penetration.
Of all the schools surveyed, Harvard had the highest participation rate: 53% of all degree-seeking students across Harvard schools responded. This was significantly higher than the 19% average across all the schools surveyed.
“The data reinforce the alarming frequency with which our students, especially but by no means only our undergraduates, experience incidents of sexual assault,” Faust said in the email. “They also underscore how many students lack confidence in how our institution will respond to reports of sexual misconduct—and how many lack adequate knowledge of the resources and support available to them in times of distress and need.”
Faust recently launched a website called Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Education, or SHARE, to aggregate resources, among other initiatives to prevent sexual violence on campus, but this report will no doubt accelerate the university’s response. Faust has convened a Task Force on the Prevention of Sexual Assault that will be led by Steve Hyman, Harvard’s former provost, to examine the AAU results and provide recommendations. She has also invited interested members of the community this evening for a university conversation to gather ideas about how to tackle sexual assault on campus.