Sexual Assault at Olin

At the end of last academic year, I surveyed all Olin students and alumni about their experiences with sexual assault. After two different students shared their experiences in Frankly Speaking [1], I wanted to learn more about how Olin students experience and relate to sexual assault and begin taking proactive steps to address the problem.

The Olin community perceives the “bubble” as a safe place, where students can leave laptops in the lounge or a $20 bill on someone’s whiteboard, because we look out for one another. For the most part, I’ve found this to be true. The numbers also support this notion; Olin’s published crime statistics consistently show that we have no campus crime, including sexual assault [2].

My three years at Olin have revealed to me that these numbers don’t tell the whole story. Sexual assault is a problem on every college campus, and unfortunately Olin is no exception. Like on many other campuses, many survivors of assault at Olin never report their experience, and those who do often choose quieter routes such as the Honor Board or OSL (which can provide no-contact orders). Because the student body as a whole doesn’t hear about cases of assault, there isn’t an overwhelming sense that’s it’s an important issue on our campus.

I want to change that.

The response rate for the survey was incredible: 233 current students (out of ~350) and 249 alumni (out of 585) completed the survey, for a total of 482 responses. Some responses are grouped by gender: cisgender women, cisgender men, non-cisgender people, and people who did not specify a gender. (Cisgender refers to people whose identity matches with the gender assigned to them based on their biological sex.) Non-cisgender peoples’ responses are shown together because of the range of gender identities provided and my desire to protect the privacy of the small number of non-cisgender people who responded to the survey.

survey participants

The responses to the survey mostly echoed published sexual assault statistics from other colleges and universities [3]. The main discrepancy is that non-cisgender people elsewhere generally experience higher rates of sexual assault than cisgender people, which was not reflected in the small number of responses from non-cisgender people to this survey.

In the survey, people were asked a series of questions about their experiences with sexual assault. You can revisit the survey at http://goo.gl/6l69ik. As a reminder, I provided a definition of sexual assault in the survey: “Sexual assault is defined as sexual activity without explicit consent. This can include, but is not limited to, penetration, kissing, and groping (including through clothing). Assault can occur with or without the use of physical force on the part of the assailant. It can also involve emotional coercion. It sometimes, but does not always, involve alcohol or other drugs. Fight, flight, and freezing are all common responses to sexual assault, and none of these responses invalidate a person’s experience or change the definition of assault. Many sexual assaults are perpetrated by someone the survivor knows, including friends, acquaintances, relatives, and current/former partners. Sexual assault can begin with consensual sexual activity – prior consent does not imply current consent. People of any gender identity, race, sexual orientation, age, etc. can be assaulted.”

Quantitative results are summarized below.

Survey question: Do you feel that you have ever been sexually assaulted?
Do you feel that you have ever been sexually assaulted?

Survey question: Do you feel that you have been/were sexually assaulted during your time at Olin?
Do you feel that you have been/were sexually assaulted during your time at Olin?

Survey question: If you feel that you have been/were sexually assaulted during your time at Olin, how would you identify the perpetrator(s)?
Of the 83 people who responded “yes” or “I’m not sure” to having been assaulted at Olin, 81 categorized their perpetrator(s). Most perpetrators were other Olin students (often partners or friends), although a large number were people external to the community (often coworkers and non-Olin students at parties).
How would you identify the perpetrator(s)?

As with all collection of data and information, there are some factors that are potentially skewing these survey results: the response rate was < 100%; and current students from all years responded, so some students who answered “no” to having been assaulted at Olin may still experience sexual assault before graduation.

From these responses, however, it is clear that sexual assault is a problem at Olin. So what can we do about it?

To start, I would like to introduce a new campus group, Empower, which will promote healthy, consensual, and positive relationships, whether romantic, purely sexual, or anything in between. Our first event will be an open discussion about addressing sexual assault at Olin. All students are invited to join at 6 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 14th in the crescent room (upstairs in the DH – feel free to bring your dinner.) My highest priority for this meeting is that it be an open, constructive, and safe discussion. We do have a strong, tight-knit community here at Olin, and I would like to use that to our advantage to address this issue that exists here, like it does everywhere. Alumni and faculty/staff members can send me their thoughts and I will bring them up during the discussion. If you would like to be further involved in the group, shoot me an email. (We are in the process of implementing an anonymous mailing list for students, empower@lists.olin.edu.)

I am also doing my AHS Capstone project on addressing these issues at Olin. If you have experienced assault (at Olin or otherwise) and are willing to be interviewed later in fall semester when I have a clearer plan, please let me know. I anticipate discussing topics such as the decision to report, support you did/did not receive, your healing process, and anything else you find relevant. You can email me at kate@students.olin.edu to set up an interview or ask any questions you have. The interviews will not be formal “research,” just a way of getting additional perspectives to inform my work on behalf of the Olin community.

Sexual assault has no place at Olin. I look forward to working with the entire community to reduce assault, support survivors, and create an open dialogue around these difficult issues on our campus.

[1] It Happens Here, and It (Still) Happens Here. http://franklyspeakingnews.com/
[2] 2012 Security & Fire Report. Rep. Olin College of Engineering, n.d. Web. <http://www.olin.edu/sites/default/files/olin_college_campus_safety_security_brochure_2012.pdf>.
[3] Sexual Violence Statistics. Rep. BARCC, n.d. Web. <http://barcc.org/assets/img/Statistics_Download_-_All.pdf>.