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SARV study reveals contours of sexual assault at CMU

Recently, the Office of Title IX released the Sexual Assault and Relationship Violence (SARV) Study findings for 2017. As part of a biennial study, the Office of Title IX and the university compiles data from surveys sent out to all students and analyzes the findings to uncover trends and determine the effectiveness of current initiatives aimed at preventing instances of sexual assault and relationship violence.

The study for 2017 produced a 29.5 percent response rate among undergraduate students and a 25.9 percent response rate among graduate students, approximately seven percent and five percent lower, respectively, than the response rate from 2015’s study. The study finds that overall, 25.8 percent of undergraduate women experienced a completed sexual assault since enrolling at Carnegie Mellon. This statistic is around the same as that of 2015 (26 percent). For graduate women, the statistic is up 0.9 percent from two years prior.

The 2017 study also includes the gender identity of non-binary students, which was not present in the 2015 study. Grace Huddleston, a member of SARV Activism For Everyone (SAFE), a student group focused on reducing sexual assault at Carnegie Mellon, found that there are “a lot of similarities between the two studies. One big difference this year is the gender non-binary option which is great and highlights a problem on campus that you can't see in the 2015 report.”

Though the purpose of these studies are to educate the Carnegie Mellon community, Resident Assistant John Solomon believes that these findings should be used to start important conversations that can help to prevent further instances of assault. “My role is to be conscious of activities that my residents are getting into that are questionable with regards to SARV and to be an outlet to connect residents to resources, [such as] Title IX or [Counseling and Psychological Services]. I took a look at the finds, just skimmed through it. There is a lot of stuff that goes into it. The findings are very thorough.”

Though Solomon found the study's results to be important to those caring for Carnegie Mellon students, he believes that not many other students have taken the time to learn about the study’s findings, saying “I think I am in the minority of students that have looked into that.”

To be thorough, the study asked respondents about many different identifiers, such as gender (including non-binary), year, and sexual orientation. However, Huddleston adds that “certain demographic information seemed to be missing, like race, income, or immigration status. Gender violence affects anyone, but certain groups are disproportionately affected and I would like to know what efforts will be made in the future to study these factors.”

Another anonymous contributor argued that increasing the scope of the study would incentivize more people of different backgrounds to participate in the study.

The reliance of this study on the responses of students may be worrisome as the response rate can vary, and most other peer institutions do not rely on voluntary surveys. They instead use data on reported assaults to compile a yearly report. These reports include the type of assault as well as the punishment.

Though Carnegie Mellon University’s study does not include these metrics, the utilization of student responses indicates the university's desire to increase student engagement on such an important report, and include assaults that may not have been reported formally.

The increased specificity in the 2017 study provides a way to avoid the misconception that sexual assault is a binary thing, either completed or not.

The study highlights different manifestations of sexual assault and relationship violence such as attempted sexual assault and the inclusion of non-normative identities.

Should the university continue taking steps toward making the study more comprehensive and inclusive, by considering the myriad identities that affect those subjected to sexual assault and the many forms that sexual assault may take, an increasing percentage of the student body might partake in the SARV study, which would lead to more accurate results due to the higher participation, which would in turn lend a better understanding of sexual assault and relationship violence within the Carnegie Mellon community.