Sexual assault and relationship violence survey sheds light on issue

Last April, 34.4 percent of the student body on the Pittsburgh campus of Carnegie Mellon University participated in a survey that measured students’ experiences with sexual assault and relationship violence (SARV). On Thursday, the results of that survey were released via an email from University President Subra Suresh and Provost Farnam Jahanian. The email not only included a link to the results document, but also a plan for the upcoming town hall meetings on Oct. 19, 27, and 28 to discuss the findings.

According to the email, the town hall meetings will focus on “community discussions about how this information should further influence our priorities moving forward.” Referencing the Oct. 3 email from Dean of Student Affairs Gina Casalegno, the email urged students and faculty to participate in these discussions in order to help steer the direction of prevention efforts on campus.

“Students should know that we did this study to inform our planning and actions. It was designed not just to share experiences but to be action-oriented and guide next steps,” said Holly Hippensteel, assistant dean of student affairs and interim director of the Office of Title IX Initiatives, in an email to The Tartan. “I hope that students, and everyone, will consider the results and then participate in our town hall discussions. I believe that the only way we will make headway in reducing the incidence of sexual misconduct is by working together as a community.”

The results of the survey were presented in the form of a 60-page PDF that outlined every step of the study, from the committee that worked to create it to the measures that they took to ensure that the questions were sensitively phrased. Hippensteel said that the survey’s inception and administration went well. “We had to make some difficult choices about what to include in this study and what were our highest priorities among things that were all very important to us,” she wrote.

The major findings of the study were reported, but so were the responses to every question. Written by Janel Sutkus, director of Institutional Research and Analysis, the results broke every element of the survey down. “Since this was the first time that we asked these questions of [Carnegie Mellon] students, I did not have any hypotheses about what we would learn,” Sutkus said in an email to The Tartan.

According to Sutkus, the committee is comfortable that the majority of students who took the survey interpreted it in the way that the questions were intended to be read, an important part of creating a survey that deals with such sensitive data. Given that April’s iteration of the survey was the first of its kind on Carnegie Mellon’s campus, there was a lot of attention given to getting the most accurate results. Sutkus and her team first presented test questions to the student government executive branch, the SARV Prevention Committee, and the Survivor’s Support Network (SSN) and then administered the survey to three groups of pilot-test students.

The major takeaways of the study include data about overall rates of sexual assault—both attempted and perpetrated—amongst Carnegie Mellon students, rates of reporting, the effectiveness of Carnegie Mellon’s prevention programming, and the perceptions on campus about SARV. According to the study, 26 percent of undergraduate women at Carnegie Mellon have experienced sexual assault since they enrolled at the university, which is on par with the nationwide reports. Among the undergraduate male population, 9 percent experienced sexual assault since enrolling.

The data indicates that across all responders, 12 percent reported experiencing completed assault during their time enrolled at Carnegie Mellon, and that of the 438 students, one-third had experienced multiple assaults. Rates of sexual assault went up with age: while 18.9 percent of female undergraduates and 4.1 percent of male undergraduates experienced a completed sexual assault, those rates both increased by the time the responders were upperclassmen, to 34 percent and 15.1 percent respectively.

As far as reporting rates went, the survey reports that “less than 5% of each type of attempted or completed sexual assault type is reported to CMU: however, given our measurement of ‘any experience since enrolling’ not all sexual assaults are within CMU’s purview.”

For nearly every type of attempted or completed sexual assault about which the survey asked, it was found that the majority of students were most likely to have told another student about the assault without a follow up report to the university. Rates of telling the university, via University Health Services (UHS), Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), faculty and staff outside of those two departments, or Carnegie Mellon law enforcement, are extremely low across the board, especially among male graduate students, none of whom reported telling anyone at Carnegie Mellon about the attempted or completed assault.

The data reported in this survey is far too vast to be reported in just one article in The Tartan and can be found online at

The study did not cover sexual harassment and stalking. However, an additional survey to be released later this fall will collect that data from Carnegie Mellon students, according to Sutkus. The SARV study will be repeated every three years to keep up with any changing trends, said Sutkus.

All who were a part of producing the survey expressed their gratitude toward the students who participated.
“I am incredibly grateful to each student who participated in the study, and in particular, to those who never told anyone about their experiences with sexual assault or relationship violence but chose to share those experiences with us on the survey,” Sutkus wrote.