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Why did UW-Madison participate again?
The 2015 survey was the first of its kind nationally and produced valuable, actionable data. Surveys like this one are a critical tool for assessing and improving our efforts to prevent and respond to sexual violence and to support all survivors.
How was the survey developed?
The survey was developed by Westat for the Association of American Universities (AAU), an organization of leading research universities – 60 in the United States and two in Canada. Questions about the survey instrument should be directed to AAU.
What incentives were provided to students to participate?
To encourage participation, students were either entered into one of two sweepstakes (for four $500 prizes or one for 20 $100 prizes) or offered a $5 incentive to complete the survey.
What do the numbers tell us?
The numbers provide a snapshot of sexual assault and misconduct among our undergraduate and graduate students – how often it occurs, who is affected by it, how many students report it to campus resources or law enforcement and how knowledgeable students are about campus policies and resources.
A few key findings:
- Prevalence: Rates of sexual assault at UW-Madison remain similar to other universities. While rates of sexual assault for undergraduate women rose between 2015 and 2019 for other AAU institutions, there was no significant change at UW-Madison. In 2019, 26.1 percent of undergraduate women at UW-Madison reported having experienced some form of sexual assault; 11 percent reported experiencing assault by penetration.
- Knowledge: In comparing our 2019 survey results to 2015, both undergraduate and graduate students report significantly higher levels of knowledge about sexual assault and campus resources; the levels of knowledge at UW-Madison are also higher than at other universities.
- Reporting: Currently 87 percent of all sexual assaults go unreported to any campus resource, even including confidential resources. This means that students are not able to access critical support such as mental health services and academic accommodations. Going forward we want to ensure more students are getting the support they need.
A note on the data: We recognize that marginalized groups are often disproportionately affected by sexual assault and misconduct and we want to ensure that our actions address that. The results released today are preliminary and do not yet include full breakdowns by race, ethnicity and sexual orientation.
In order to follow internal data protocols, the dataset Westat provided included data with collapsed categories by race and sexual orientation. By November, we will analyze a new dataset that allows us to understand the differences in important outcomes using the full array of racial, ethnic, and sexual orientation identities.
What do the results mean for the safety of students on campus?
Ensuring the safety of our students is a fundamental priority for all of us at UW–Madison. Sexual assault and misconduct are a serious problem on university campuses nationwide and in our broader communities. While rates of sexual assault at UW-Madison remain similar to other universities, one incident is too many.
What is campus going to do to address these concerns?
- Additional staff: We will hire an additional advocate in UHS Survivor Services and a case manager in the Title IX Office to better facilitate student and employee access to support services.
- Assessment: We will apply for membership in the NASPA Culture of Respect Collective. The Collective is an ambitious two-year program that brings together institutions of higher education who are dedicated to ending campus sexual violence and guides them through a rigorous process of self-assessment and organizational change.
- Support: We will develop a trauma-informed care initiative in UHS to improve medical and mental health services for students who have suffered trauma, including survivors of sexual assault.
- Campus input: Through a series of forums in November, we will discuss the survey results with members of our campus community and seek additional feedback through forums that will be used to develop additional actions.
What actions has UW-Madison taken since 2015?
We have implemented nearly all of the recommendations made by the 2015 survey task force. Actions included:
- Hiring additional staff in University Health Services and in the Title IX Office.
- Adding an in-person training requirement for all new undergraduate and transfer students to supplement the required online primary prevention training. Completion rate exceeded 90%.
- Adding mandatory prevention training for all employees.
If you took all these actions why are there still so many incidents of sexual assault and misconduct?
Sexual violence is a complex social problem. Our results are consistent with those at campuses across the nation. Reducing sexual violence at UW requires changes in behavior and culture as well as in resources and the campus environment. We are committed to building on the actions we’ve already taken and to working in partnership with students, faculty and staff to make further progress.
Why do so many incidents of sexual assault and misconduct go unreported?
This is not unique to UW – nationally, just 15 percent of survivors contacted a program or resource. Survivors choose not to report for a wide variety of reasons and we respect their right to make that decision. We do want to help more students connect with confidential mental health and academic support services. Those services are available regardless of whether a student chooses to report to law enforcement or the student conduct process.
Our society continues to change in this respect, particularly in response to the #MeToo movement. It’s also important to note that we have not seen any decrease in actual reports to campus programs and resources.
Aggregate Data FAQ
How big was this survey?
- 181,752 students completed this year’s survey; the total student population at
participating schools was 830,936.
- That represents a significant increase over the 150,072 respondents in the 2015 survey.
- It also represented a broad mix of students and institutions:
- 108,221 undergraduate respondents and 73,531 graduate and professional respondents;
- 95,975 respondents from private institutions and 85,777 respondents from public institutions;
- 33 universities took part; 321 of them are AAU member campuses.
- The survey also had one of the largest sample sizes of self-identified transgender, nonbinary, genderqueer and other TGQN students ever studied, with 1.7 percent of respondents selecting a TGQN category and 0.6 percent selecting “decline to state” for their gender category.
What did the survey show in terms of incidence?
- The overall rate of non-consensual sexual contact by physical force or inability to
consent since the student enrolled at the school was 13 percent.
Was this an increase from 2015?
- For the schools that participated in both the 2015 and 2019 surveys, the overall rate of
non-consensual sexual contact by physical force or inability to consent increased for
most categories of students:
- It increased by 3 percentage points for undergraduate women.
- It increased by 2.4 percentage points for graduate and professional women.
- It increased by 1.4 percentage points for undergraduate men.
- The change for TGQN students was not statistically significant.
Did the survey show any other changes from 2015?
- The survey found significant increases from 2015 to 2019 in student reports of their
knowledge about school definitions and procedures related to sexual assault and
other sexual misconduct.
- The largest change was for knowledge of the definition of sexual assault and other
sexual misconduct, where there were increases of 11.5 percentage points for
undergraduate women and 12.4 percentage points for undergraduate men.
Are any groups particularly vulnerable?
- Undergraduate women and undergraduate TGQN students reported much higher
incidences of sexual assault than their male counterparts or their counterparts in
graduate and professional school:
- The incidence for women undergraduates is nearly three times higher than for
women graduate and professional students (25% vs. 9.7%).
- Among TGQN students, 22.8 percent of undergraduates and 14.5 percent of
graduate and professional students reported this type of victimization.
- But only 6.8 percent of undergraduate men and 2.5 percent of male
graduate/professional students reported sexual assault.
- The incidence for women undergraduates is nearly three times higher than for
Are students using campus resources when they have been victims of sexual assault or misconduct?
- The short answer is, “Yes, but not often enough.”
- Students reported making contact with a counseling resource or program 46.8 percent
of the time after being victimized.
- They contacted campus police (11.3% of the time) and local police (9.4% of the time)
less often after victimization.
- Students provided mixed reviews of program or service usefulness. For 35 percent of
respondents who contacted a program or resource, students felt it was “not at all” or “a
little” useful, while 40 percent felt the program was “very” or “extremely” useful.
What is AAU doing to fight sexual assault and misconduct on campus?
- AAU has undertaken the 2015 and 2019 surveys to help its members better understand
the attitudes and experiences of their students with respect to sexual assault and sexual
- AAU also surveyed our member institutions in 2017 to get a better understanding of
best practices campuses are undertaking combat sexual assault and misconduct. The
findings have been published in a report, with aggregated information.
- This information is helping university administrators facilitate conversations on campus
about this important topic and formulate evidence-based policies and practices
intended to reduce sexual assault and sexual misconduct on campus.
- AAU also hopes the survey data provide federal policymakers with additional
information as they consider legislative and administrative responses to this issue.
Why were various gender identities combined in this report?
- TGQN students were placed together in a group in the study to allow for meaningful
- A very small percentage (less than 2%) of respondents to the survey selected a gender
identity category other than “man” or “woman.”
- Because this percentage is so small, publishing estimates for individual non-male/female
gender categories (i.e., trans woman, trans man, nonbinary or genderqueer,
questioning, and not listed) and breaking down by affiliation status (i.e., undergraduate
versus graduate/professional students) does not yield statistically stable results.
What did the survey find about LGBTQ students?
- Generally speaking, LGBTQ students were more likely than other students to be
- Among all respondents, bisexual students reported the highest rate of victimization
(25.6%); followed by those selecting more than one category for sexual orientation
(22.2%); those who identified as asexual, queer, questioning or not listed (18.5%), and
those who identified as gay or lesbian (15.1%).
- These percentages are all higher than the victimization rate reported for all
heterosexual respondents (11.5%).
- For TGQN students, the rates range from 19.5 percent for gay or lesbian sexual
orientation to 23.8 percent for those selecting more than one category.
- TGQN students who chose heterosexual as their sexual orientation have rates that are
not statistically different from heterosexual men (6.9% vs. 4.1%) and have much lower
rates than heterosexual women (19.1%).
- What did the survey find about graduate and professional students?
- Graduate and professional students reported lower rates of victimization for sexual
assault than undergraduate students.
- However, they also reported higher rates of being sexually harassed by a faculty
member than did undergraduate students.
Did any other issues stand out in the surveys?
- While overall students in 2019 report being better informed about what constitutes
sexual assault and know where to report assault, they also do not believe sexual assault
claims will be handled properly and are, far too often, not reporting cases of assault or
taking advantage of resources to recover.
- This survey explored why many students choose not to report incidents that they
believe weren’t “serious enough” to warrant reporting. Findings showed that students
most frequently chose not to report incidents either because they felt they could handle
it themselves or because they weren’t physically harmed.
- Year in school may also affect risk. Students who are relatively new to school may
experience higher risk because they are not familiar with situations that may lead to an
incident of sexual assault or misconduct. For undergraduate women, the prevalence
rates decline by year in school (Tables 14–16). Among first-year students, 16.1 percent
of undergraduate women reported sexual contact by physical force or inability to
consent during the academic year during which they took the survey. This percentage
steadily declines by year in school, to 11.3 percent for fourth-year-or-higher students.
How do the rates of sexual assault in this survey compare to those of similarly aged people who aren’t studying at universities?
- There have only been a handful of studies using similar methodologies to this one that
have compared the sexual assault rates of college students to similar-age adults who are
not in college, and they all conclude that college students have lower rates than those
not in college (Coker, Follingstad, et al., 2016; Axinn, Bardos, & West, 2017; Sinozich &
- This does not minimize the seriousness of the problem of sexual assault and misconduct
while attending a four-year school or its consequences on students’ well-being.
However, it does provide a broader perspective on its correlations and consequences.
How much did the survey cost overall? Per institution?
- The cost for the survey was $47,500 per institution.
- Costs to add customized questions as well as incentives were additional and varied by
Will the raw data be made available to researchers?
- Similar to data from the 2015 survey, data from this survey will be housed at the
University of Michigan’s Institute for Social research at the ICPSR:
- Those at AAU institutions will be able to apply for this data in 2020; however, all other
researchers will have to wait one year.
Why didn’t every AAU institution participate in the survey?
- For those AAU institutions that did not participate, most already perform their own
regular campus surveys on sexual assault.
- Some do it voluntarily, and some are required by state law or by their university systems
to do so.
- As a result, many of these schools did not want to try to get complete responses from
students twice in one year on the same topic.
How was Westat selected to perform the survey?
- AAU performed a competitive bidding process, as we do for most of our large contract
work. This process included members of the AAU survey design team as well as AAU
- Westat, which performed the 2015 survey, won the contract for this year’s survey as
Will AAU conduct the survey again in 2023?
- We are considering it, in consultation with our member schools.
AAU FAQ during Spring 2019 Survey Administration
Who takes the survey?
All students at the University of Wisconsin–Madison are asked to answer this survey.
Why take the survey?
The goal of this survey is to make the UW–Madison campus as safe as possible by better understanding the sexual assault climate that currently exists.
Why me and what is this about?
We are asking all students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison to answer a climate survey on sexual assault and sexual misconduct.The results will be used to guide policies to encourage a healthy, safe, and nondiscriminatory environment on campus. Our goal is to make the University of Wisconsin–Madison as safe as possible by developing programs and services that prevent sexual assault and misconduct, as well as respond to these events when they do occur.This survey is an important tool for us to assess current programs and to shape future policies.
Who is administering the survey?
The survey is sponsored by the University of Wisconsin-Madison in collaboration with the Association of American Universities (AAU). Westat, a private research organization, is administering the survey and will be assisting in the analysis of the data.
What will the University of Wisconsin-Madison do with the results?
The results will be used to better understand the climate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the extent of sexual assault and misconduct among students, and the use of programs and services currently being offered. This information will be used to make recommendations for changes to the policies and procedures related to preventing and handling sexual assault and misconduct at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Why are you asking about these sensitive topics?
Our goal is to foster a safe and supportive environment where students can flourish, both academically and personally. To understand the climate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, we need to ask direct questions about topics that some may find sensitive. It is only by directly collecting this information from you that we will be able to prevent negative experiences and effectively respond when they do happen.
What will I be asked to do?
You are invited to participate in a web survey. This survey includes sections that ask about your knowledge and beliefs about social situations, perceptions related to sexual misconduct at your college, and your knowledge of resources available at your college. This survey also asks about your personal experience with sexual misconduct, such as harassment, sexual assault, and other forms of violence.
Why is the language on the survey so explicit?
Some of the language used in this survey is explicit and some people may find it uncomfortable, but it is important that we ask the questions in this way so that you are clear what we mean. Information on how to get help, if you need it, appears on the bottom of each page and at the end of the survey.
Isn’t this survey only for women?
No, this survey is for everyone, regardless of gender identity or experiences. The survey will be used to shape policies that affect everyone on campus, so it is very important that you provide your experiences and viewpoint.
I’ve never experienced sexual assault or sexual misconduct, so why should I take part?
If only victims of sexual assault and sexual misconduct participate in the survey, we will have a very lopsided view of your campus. To get a complete picture of your college, we need to hear from as many students as possible. Please tell a friend!
How long will the survey take?
This survey should take most people approximately 20 minutes to complete. It may take up to 30 minutes for some individuals.
Am I required to participate?
You do NOT have to participate in this survey, and if you do participate, you may skip any question you are not comfortable answering and may exit the survey at any time. Most people will find the questions interesting.
Will my answers be confidential?
When you complete the survey, the link with your name, email, and IP address will be broken so that no one will be able to connect these with your survey answers. The results will be presented in summary form so no individual can be identified. However, if we learn about child abuse or about a threat of harm to yourself or others, we are obligated to report it to the authorities.
What should I do if I become upset answering these questions?
On each page of the online survey, there is a link to on- and off-campus resources that you can contact if you become upset. In addition to local resources, there is information for several national services that provide information and counselors 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We have included a variety of resources so you can choose to contact the one(s) you think would be most helpful to you.
I still have questions.
If you have any questions about this study, you can call the study Help Desk at 1-855-497-4787.
If you have questions about your rights and welfare as a research participant, please call the Westat Human Subjects Protections office at 1-888-920-7631. Please leave a message with your full name, the name of the research study that you are calling about the AAU Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct, and a phone number beginning with the area code. Someone will return your call as soon as possible.