Sexual misconduct survey results shocking, but not unusual

At regents meeting, CU-Boulder details progress in prevention, response efforts

Reports of sexual misconduct at CU-Boulder increased nearly 100 percent in 2013-14 and 2014-15, which means efforts to fuel awareness, encourage reporting and promote access to resources for reporting and preventing sexual misconduct are working, said Valerie Simons, executive director and Title IX coordinator in the Office of Institutional Equity and Compliance.

“It doesn’t mean that it’s gotten worse – it means that we’re finally capturing what’s really happening on this campus,” Simons told the CU Board of Regents on Friday at its meeting at UCCS. “And that’s one of the critical things. We’ve got to get people to report to us and the police so we can respond to it.”

The Office of Institutional Equity and Compliance last fall distributed a survey to all students at CU-Boulder. The overall response rate was an impressive 41 percent; of respondents, 28 percent reported experiencing sexual misconduct since becoming a student at CU-Boulder.

While that statistic is shocking, Simons said, it’s not unusual.

“Now that we have the frequency rates and we have reports, we’ve got to reduce the gaps,” she said. “It is important to understand the progress our campus has made in respect to our prevention and response efforts.”

The survey listed six tactics of sexual assault, ranging from catching you off guard and unexpectedly doing something you didn’t want, to using force. The last three tactics – using your incapacitation, using physical threats and intimidation and using force – are the most severe. In the Association of American Universities sexual misconduct survey, 23 percent of undergraduate women reported experiencing sexual misconduct, Simons said. “And they only take those last three tactics. Our number is 28 percent, but we include the whole broad range of tactics,” she said.

CU-Boulder opted to do its own survey to best isolate details specific to the Boulder campus. Phase II of the survey results will be released in June and will go into more detail than Phase I.

Simons’ office has launched a reporting website that allows students to easily make a report to CU-Boulder and/or CU-Boulder police. It provides lists of resources for individuals to find assistance. CU-Boulder also has initiated required online policy courses and quizzes, and bystander training for all new students.

Regent Sue Sharkey, R-Castle Rock, applauded the progress, but said she was concerned that the Boulder District Attorney’s office was not following through on prosecuting cases that had been forwarded by the university.

“I’d like some statistics from our Boulder campus on cases that are referred to them; how many the Boulder (district attorney) is taking to prosecution,” she said. “When a crime has occurred, the students have to know that their cases will go on to prosecution. If in the next step, which is beyond our control, they’re not prosecuting cases, then we’re putting our students through a horrific ordeal to end up having the ball drop at the Boulder County DA’s office.”

Simons explained there is a higher burden of proof on the criminal side and that county statutes don’t always mirror CU-Boulder’s statutes and requirements under Title IX.

Regent Michael Carrigan, D-Denver, said the survey results were “shocking and so disturbing.”

“The only thing worse than hearing these numbers is not knowing about them,” he said. “If we don’t know about them, we can’t fix them.”

Sharkey stressed the role of educating children before they enter college. “There’s a problem on our college campuses, it’s not unique to CU,” she said. “Parental responsibilities – we need to be having these conversations with our children, whether it’s that they’re going to be drinking or using drugs and putting themselves into high-risk situations, whether it is a son or it is a daughter. It is not just a university problem. And I implore parents to be aware and have these conversations over and over and over again while their students are attending college.”

Regent Linda Shoemaker, D-Boulder, noted that the statistics for experiencing sexual misconduct among women of college age who do not attend college are the same.

Regent Sharkey agreed. “Our young women are at risk, whether they’re in college or not. This is a society problem.”

 A follow-up survey will be conducted in three years, Simons said.