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Rutgers releases iSpeak survey on sexual misconduct prevalence, awareness

<p>Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Salvador Mena said this year's iSPEAK survey found a 67% increase in the University’s office of Violence Prevention and Victim Assistance (VPVA).</p>

Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Salvador Mena said this year's iSPEAK survey found a 67% increase in the University’s office of Violence Prevention and Victim Assistance (VPVA).

Although awareness for sexual assault resources has increased more than 200% since the last iSPEAK survey in 2016, the number of men and women who have reported experiencing any unwanted sexual contact has also risen, according to the iSPEAK survey results released yesterday. 

The iSPEAK survey is an instrument which collects data regarding sexual and dating violence.

Approximately 25% of women reported experiencing any unwanted sexual contact, whereas 20% of women did in 2016’s survey. And, 6% of men reported experiencing any unwanted sexual contact in this year’s survey, compared to 5% in 2016. The 2016 iSPEAK survey was reported by The Daily Targum at the time of its release. 

The rise in reported sexual misconduct may be due to students having an increased awareness of the problem and an increased likelihood to say or do something. 

“Students as bystanders are more willing to act, see something and say something, they are more willing to act and then more likely to share their experiences with their peers or friends,” said Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Salvador Mena in an interview with the Targum. 

In addition to the large increase in overall awareness, this year’s iSPEAK survey found that there is a 68% increase in awareness for the Office of Student Conduct and a 67% increase in the University’s office of Violence Prevention and Victim Assistance (VPVA), Mena said. 

“In general, there is just a greater awareness among the student body of the resources available to them for support, either it be they themselves or who they know have been impacted by this issue,” he said. 

After seeing in 2016’s survey that students were not as aware as they could be of sexual misconduct resources or who to turn to when dealing with such issues, Rutgers has implemented new ways for outreach, Mena said. For instance, it now has sexual misconduct education as part of incoming student’s orientation.

Yet the University has a ways to go, Mena said. While the rates of sexual misconduct are lower than national levels, there are still groups — particularly graduate students and historically marginalized people — who are more likely to be affected and less likely to reach out for help. 

For instance, approximately 60% of white people who have experienced sexual violence disclosed it to someone, whereas approximately 43% of Black people, 46% of Asian people and 53% of Latinx people surveyed said they did the same, according to the survey. 

Also, 27% of women and 20% of men on the LGBTQ+ spectrum have experienced some form of sexual violence since coming to Rutgers, both of which are higher than the overall average for their genders, according to the survey. 

The University, as a result, will be learning more about the historical and cultural reasons for these discrepancies and then make some changes to these groups’ targeted outreach, Mena said. 

“So we will be doing some specific outreach there, to try to make specific inroads with that community in terms of their awareness and what their resources are,” he said. 

In terms of how the University investigates sexual misconduct allegations against students, Mena said Rutgers does not follow the same standards as the law, which goes by the principle innocent until proven guilty. Instead, it goes by the principle of fairness and the preponderance of evidence. 

“Was it more likely than not that this incident happened? That is the standard we have,” Mena said. 

Ultimately, the verdict is decided by the hearing officer after both sides have been given a chance to give their case, along with evaluating evidence such as text messages, he said. Students have the chance to appeal, and the victim and the student accused are given support throughout the process. 

While a student has been accused of something that goes against community standards, they are still a Rutgers student until a possible outcome is determined, Mena said. So they are still given a dean of students or advisor to keep in contact for support as well. 

“I can tell you from experience that any student that has experienced victimization, whether it be robbed on Easton Street to being a victim of sexual violence, or a student who is doing something that is unbecoming of a student at Rutgers, may need support," Mena said.

Now that the survey results are in, the action plan going forward is to increase men’s — who, as the study showed, are still largely the perpetrators — engagement, recognize and support survivors who have graduated or experienced sexual violence before arriving at Rutgers and implement targeted outreach to students from underrepresented groups that will be different from some programming in the past, Mena said. 

“The findings for us are both promising, in terms of the advancement and improvements we’ve made in terms of awareness, but there is still work to be done,” Mena said. “We want students to be able to recognize interpersonal violence, sometimes that is physical, mental or financial.”

The data was drawn from the Campus Climate Assessment Survey that the Rutgers School of Social Work’s Center on Violence Against Women and Children conducted in Spring 2018, according to a University-wide email sent by Chancellor Christopher J. Molloy.

"The results of this survey are both encouraging and concerning," Molloy said, according to the email. 

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