A 'chronic public health issue': Stanford officials troubled by campus sexual assault data

Survey finds high rates of nonconsensual sexual activity among undergraduate women, transgender and gender non-conforming students

Nearly 40% of undergraduate women who have attended Stanford University for four years have experienced some form of nonconsensual sexual contact, according to results from a campus climate survey.

Stanford released on Tuesday its results from the Association of American Universities (AAU) survey, in which 33 colleges and universities across the country participated. Provost Persis Drell said she is "deeply troubled" by Stanford's results, describing sexual violence as a "chronic public health issue."

"Despite many efforts at Stanford over the years, it is evident that much more needs to be done," she said in a letter announcing the results.

Stanford's response rate of 62% — about 10,000 undergraduate and graduate students — was the second-highest in the country. This is the first time Stanford participated in the consortium survey; the university was sharply criticized in 2015 for using its own survey that critics suggested downplayed the prevalence of sexual violence at Stanford. The 2015 survey found that nearly one-third of undergraduate women had experienced sexual misconduct during their time at the university.

The new survey results shed further light on an issue that many members of the campus community have been pressing Stanford to systemically address for years. Since starting at Stanford, 23.8% of undergraduate women and 21.7% of all TGQN students (which includes transgender women, transgender men, nonbinary/genderqueer, gender questioning or gender not listed), both undergraduate and graduate, have experienced nonconsensual sexual activity by physical force or inability to consent. By comparison, across all of the participating AAU institutions, 26% of undergraduate women reported nonconsensual sexual activity.

More than 20% of all Stanford students experienced harassment that interfered with their academic or professional performance or created a hostile environment at school. The majority of perpetrators are other Stanford students and are either friends or acquaintances of the victims.

Less than half of Stanford students (44%) believe that university officials are very or extremely likely to conduct a fair investigation into sexual misconduct allegations. Female undergraduates and students who identify as transgender, nonbinary or gender questioning were even less trusting that their campus officials would investigate reports fairly.

About 10% of undergraduate women said they experienced rape or sexual assault, attempted or completed penetration by physical force or inability to consent, at Stanford. Just under 12% of TGQN students, undergraduate and graduate, reported experiencing the same.

The rate of sexual touching (defined by the Association of American Universities as kissing; touching someone's breast, chest, crotch, groin, or buttocks; or grabbing, groping, or rubbing in a sexual way, even over a person's clothes) was highest among female undergraduates at 19%. Just under 15% of TGQN students reported having been touched in this way since enrolling at Stanford.

According to the survey, about half of nonconsensual sexual activity happens on campus at a residence hall or dorm, while 18% of women said they have experienced sexual misconduct at fraternities.

The survey also probed the academic consequences of sexual violence. Stanford women who had been sexually assaulted said they had difficulty concentrating on schoolwork. Twenty percent said their class attendance went down and 13% had difficulty going to work. Eleven percent considered dropping out of school and 9% withdrew from some or all of their classes.

Overall, rates of sexual assault at schools that participated when the Association of American Universities survey was first administered in 2015 have gone up for undergraduate, graduate and professional women and slightly for undergraduate men.

Students' knowledge about school definitions and procedures related to sexual assault and misconduct, meanwhile, has increased since 2015, according to the AAU.

"The disturbing news from this year's survey is that sexual assault and misconduct remain far too prevalent among students at all levels of study," Mary Sue Coleman, president of the Association of American Universities, said in a statement. "The good news — made possible by comparing data from the 21 schools that participated in both the 2015 and 2019 surveys — is that students are more knowledgeable than they were four years ago about what constitutes sexual assault and misconduct, how to report it, and what resources are available to victims."

Drell detailed several steps the university is taking in response to the results. Stanford plans to further analyze the data, including by disaggregating by school and degree level. The university is also bringing onto campus a community coordinator from the YWCA of Silicon Valley for "those who prefer to access resources from outside the Stanford community on issues of sexual violence and harassment." This staff person will also be available to partners and families of Stanford students.

Stanford is also launching an external review, conducted by unidentified "national experts," of university offices that deal with sexual violence and harassment. Drell expects the reviewers to produce recommendations for improvements that Stanford can act on.

To better support transgender and gender non-conforming students, Stanford will launch later this fall a new website with resources for that community as well as education for faculty and staff.

"More than a website, though, this is an effort toward developing a deeper understanding of gender identity, gender expression and how we can all engage in gender-inclusive practices," Drell said.

Stanford is holding a community meeting today (Wednesday, Oct. 16) to present the survey results from 4-5:15 p.m. at Building 420-040 on the Main Quad. People can also provide feedback anonymously via an online form or speak to university staff from multiple offices directly on Wednesday, Oct. 30, from 4-5:30 p.m. in the Old Union Clubhouse Ballroom.

Stanford administered the AAU survey last spring on the recommendation of a campus advisory committee. The university has started to release more information about its handling of sexual misconduct, including with a first-ever report last year on how the university responded to incidents of sexual misconduct involving students, staff and faculty over the last school year.

Campus resources related top sexual violence are available at

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6 people like this
Posted by Alex M
a resident of Willowgate
on Oct 16, 2019 at 2:47 pm

Alex M is a registered user.

So... what I'm getting from this article is that the Brock Turner incident that went to court and resulted the ousting of a judge due to a lenient sentence on a Stanford student, was just the tip of a large iceberg and not an anomalous event as I had seen it characterized.

20 people like this
Posted by Dan Waylonis
a resident of Jackson Park
on Oct 16, 2019 at 4:28 pm

Dan Waylonis is a registered user.

Wow. I suspect that a boy who misreads a situation and tries to kiss a girl is also listed as “nonconsensual sexual contact”.

If you cast a broad net, you’re going to catch everything.

24 people like this
Posted by member
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Oct 16, 2019 at 4:45 pm

Would it not be relevant in such an article to clearly state what is being called "nonconsensual sexual activity"? No one is defending actual sexual assault, but the definition of nonconsensual sexual activity seems to have been broadened dramatically, to include all sorts of boorish, or even innocently clumsy behavior. Why not shine the light of day on these matters, and particularly, let us know who is defining these terms?

To call this a "public health crisis" seems so overly dramatic, as to indicate that matters are worse than they've ever been. How could that be possible?

8 people like this
Posted by ronewolf
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Oct 16, 2019 at 8:09 pm

ronewolf is a registered user.

"Troubled"? That's it? What if someone in the Provost's family had been assaulted on campus, and, critically, came forward with the accusation? Perhaps, then the Provost might be a bit more than merely "troubled"? Or, even in that case would the Provost continue to play this down as is Stanford's long time M.O when trouble arises. Seems the Provost, & from some of the other comments here, members of the community continue to doubt that there is a massive problem. What will it take before they wake up to this insidious pervasive tragedy?

My heart goes out to the victims, the many victims.

3 people like this
Posted by Cordelia
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Oct 16, 2019 at 10:42 pm

I’m not surprised at all. When I was a sophomore at Stanford, a classmate I barely knew locked the both of us in my own dorm room. He brought his boom box with him. I told him to leave because I was studying. He wouldn’t leave. I told him to turn off the music. He wouldn’t turn it off. I was scared. I thought, in a few minutes nobody would hear me screaming, so I turned his music off myself. I tried to stay in control of the situation by acting annoyed instead of scared. I was saved by a phone call. I told my friend to stay on the line while I convinced a guy to leave my room. He did leave since now there was a witness. I immediately called the police. The policeman who did intake was extremely sympathetic and said all the right things to calm me down. I wanted the guy to have a police record in case he tried to rape someone else. But the investigator who followed up said all charges would be dropped because he didn’t want to ruin “a young man’s promising future”.

Over the years I’ve wondered how many women’s lives he’s ruined. How many women can’t trust, can’t work with men. How many futures were ruined because we allow men to rape as long as they look respectable. Just look at all the rape apologists here who are ready to minimize non-consensual sexual activity because it’s not actually rape. Disgusting.

2 people like this
Posted by apologists
a resident of Blossom Valley
on Oct 17, 2019 at 9:22 am

> all sorts of boorish, or even innocently clumsy behavior
> maybe that guy was a real predator, maybe he wasn't
> misreads a situation and tries to kiss a girl

Wow. So sad.No wonder there is such a problem.

22 people like this
Posted by Interesting Question
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Oct 17, 2019 at 9:57 am

A young man and woman are walking back to the dorms from getting coffee. The young man is attracted to the girl and feels as if there was some flirtation and perceived signs of affection coming from her.
As they walk through a garden, he nervously attempts to kiss the girl. She pulls away and turns her head and his kiss lands on her cheek.
She explains she's not into him like that. He says he's sorry and they walk back to the dorm engaging in awkward conversation, trying to ignore what just happened.

Would some consider this sexual assault?

2 people like this
Posted by Gary
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Oct 17, 2019 at 10:03 pm

Gary is a registered user.

With so much misconduct at Stanford - including a solid 10% chance of being raped - one must wonder who is in charge. Is there even a rule against instructors using students for sex?

2 people like this
Posted by Gary
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Oct 18, 2019 at 9:52 am

Gary is a registered user.

I asked (above) whether there is even a rule at Stanford against instructors using students for sex. It was a way of asking whether sex by staff with students is barred. I just looked online at Stanford's "aministration guide" including policies on sex on campus. No such policy jumped out at me. I did see and was reminded that Stanford has its own "department of public safety" which has police officers under - but not controlled by - the county sheriff ( i.e. Stanford has its own de facto police department). Tidy arrangement.

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