Questions about sexual assault survey remain

Experts say survey lacks transparency

By Bobby Blanchard and Scarlett Klein

The University of Texas will spend $87,500 to participate in a sexual assault survey that some experts say lacks transparency.

Dozens of other schools are opting out of the survey, which is being conducted by the Association of American Universities. Twenty-seven of the 60 Association of American Universities member institutions in the United States are participating in the survey, which would gather information on the location and frequency of assaults. The association announced in November it would conduct the “campus climate” survey by contracting the research firm Westat.

In a statement, Association of American Universities President Hunter Rawlings said in addition to combating sexual assault, one of the reasons to conduct the survey was to preemptively push back against a mandated government-developed survey from the United States Congress, which Rawlings said would be an unproductive “one-size-fits-all survey.”

“Our primary purpose in conducting this survey is to help our institutions gain a better understanding of this complex problem on their own campuses as well as nationally,” Rawlings said in his statement.

But critics of the survey said it would not be helpful for studying sexual assaults on college campuses. Their biggest concerns, critics said, was transparency, citing concerns that only aggregated data will be released from the association as a result of the survey. Data for individual campuses will not be released to the general public for policy experts and researchers to compare, but the AAU will give individual universities their campus-specific data.

Select the image below to view an interactive map of universities reporting sexual assault. Red dots are schools participating in the AAU’s sexual assault survey and green dots are non-participating schools. Click the dots to view the number of sexual assaults reported at each university.

 Data Source: U.S. Department of Education/AAU

In addition to activists for sexual assault condemning the survey, experts in academia have expressed concerns over it as well. Sixteen professors across a variety of institutions wrote a letter addressed to the presidents of the Association of American Universities. In their letter, the policy experts said the survey lacked transparency because its questions and methods are secret, and would not be available to the greater scientific community before the survey is conducted.

“Accuracy of data regarding sexual violence has been known for years to be very sensitive to the way it is measured,” the letter said. “Sound collaborative scientific efforts involve advisory boards of highly qualified scientists. In the case of the AAU survey, only two members of the advisory committee appear to have any experience in survey assessment on sexual assault, although the committee does have several lawyers and administrators.”

According to data from the U.S. Department go Education, there were just eight sexual assaults reported at UT-Austin in 2013. Some other institutions in the Association of American Universities reported similar numbers, while Harvard University reported as many as 35.

sexual offenses chart

In addition to participating with the Association of American Universities, UT-Austin will conduct its won survey, said UT spokesman Gary Susswein. Meanwhile researchers at the School of Social Work have been working on their own study – set to be published in August.

“We’re asking them…why didn’t they report? We want to know what is the reason that prevents them to report,” researcher Deidi Olaya-Rodriguez said. “We want to get as many answers as we can.”

About this project

This project was completed by UT-Austin journalism students Bobby Blanchard and Scarlett Klein. Both students did the reporting and worked on the HTML and CSS presentation. Blanchard wrote the story and created the interactive and static graphics. Klein shot and edited the video. Graphics included a Google Fusion table and a datawrapper bar chart. The HTML and CSS design is helped in part by JQuery. The written story is 600 words long.

Comments are closed.