Iowa State releases results from national campus climate survey

AMES, Iowa – Sexual assault and misconduct continue to be significant issues on college campuses across the nation, but awareness and bystander intervention are improving, according to survey results released today.

The Association of American Universities (AAU) Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Misconduct surveyed more than 180,000 students nationally, including 4,800 from Iowa State, who completed the web-based survey in March 2019. The sample also included one of the largest sample sizes respondents who self-identified transgender, non-binary, genderqueer, or questioning.

An estimated 13% of respondents at the 33 participating institutions experienced an assault (defined as nonconsensual penetration or sexual touching involving physical force or incapacitation) during their college careers. At Iowa State, the comparable figure is 11.3%; while lower than the survey average, it is an increase of 1.6% since the 2015 survey.

  • Among female undergraduate students at the 33 institutions, the incidence rate was 26.4%. Iowa State female undergraduates reported incidence rates of 11.3% for nonconsensual penetration and 17.3% for events involving sexual touching. 
  • The national incidence rate for female graduate and professional students was 10.8%. The rates for ISU female graduate and professional students were 4.7% and 6%, respectively.
  • Incidence rates were higher for students who identify as LGBQ+ compared to students who identify as heterosexual, and higher for students who reported a disability than those with no disability.
  • 57% of incidents occurred on campus or affiliated property, including residence halls, residential housing, and fraternity houses.
  • 80% of offenders were students; a third were currently, or had previously been intimately involved with the victim at the time of the event.

Iowa State leaders say the incidence rates remain too high and addressing these problems will continue to be a high priority.

“Even one incident is too much,” said Iowa State University President Wendy Wintersteen. “These results provide valuable information that will help us refine our training programs, and move us closer to our goal of preventing sexual assault and misconduct on our campus.

“It’s critically important that we come together, not only as a campus community, but as an entire state, to look at the causes of sexual assault and misconduct, to encourage victims to come forward, and to intervene when individuals are at risk.”

Five other forms of sexual misconduct – coercion, harassment, stalking, intimate partner violence, and sexual activity without active, voluntary, and ongoing consent – also were included in the survey. Overall, 5.5% of students reported they had been victims of incidents that occurred without active, ongoing, and voluntary consent.

Too few victims seek resources, despite increasing awareness

Overall, only 16.5% of female victims in the survey, and virtually no male victims, contacted a university or community resource regarding their experience. The most common reasons for not reporting included feeling embarrassed or ashamed, not thinking the incident was serious enough to report, not feeling injured or hurt, the event happened in a context that began consensually, and the victim feeling they could handle the situation themselves.

While reporting remains low, awareness of university resources has increased since the 2015 survey, with 36.1% of students reporting they were very or extremely knowledgeable about university definitions of sexual assault and misconduct, and 35.9% know where to seek help in such cases. More than three quarters of students perceived it was very or extremely likely the university would take a report of sexual assault or other misconduct seriously, also an improvement from 2015.

Bystander behavior a key component of prevention

Friends and bystanders play an important role in preventing sexual assault and misconduct. Among the 12.6% of students who have witnessed a situation they believed could lead to sexual assault or misconduct, 73% took some type of action, and 43.7% directly intervened by interrupting the situation, or confronting the person(s) engaging in inappropriate behavior.

“Students are taking action when they see situations they believe could lead to sexual assault or misconduct,” said Vernon Hurte, the university’s dean of students. “These actions may seem small at the time, but they can make a profound difference in the lives of potential victims.”

Iowa State implemented the Green Dot program in 2017 to improve bystander awareness and intervention. To date, more than 5,200 students, faculty, and staff have participated in Green Dot activities.

Alcohol use a common thread among victims

More than 70% of women who reported being victims of nonconsensual penetration or involving physical violence or incapacitation were drinking alcohol prior to their assault. Additionally, 89% of women, and 85% of men who experienced sexual touching due to their inability to consent reported drinking prior to their assault.

“Let me be clear, no victim is responsible for their own sexual assault, including if they have been consuming alcohol,” said Margo Foreman, assistant vice president for diversity and inclusion, and Iowa State’s Title IX coordinator. “However, because alcohol is such a prevalent risk factor, it is critical that we focus some of our educational efforts, including bystander intervention training, on bars and nightclubs, parties, and other environments where alcohol consumption is common.”

Iowa State has an amnesty policy for students who report incidents of sexual assault where alcohol is involved. First-year students entering Iowa State from high school are also required to complete AlcoholEdu, an online training program focused on responsible alcohol use.

Iowa State’s survey results is available at: The aggregate results of the AAU survey are available here.

Information about Iowa State’s policies, procedures and programs related to sexual assault, sexual misconduct and sexual harassment is available at: