Nearly one of every 10 students who responded to a question on Belmont’s Campus Climate survey last year said they had been a victim of sexual assault or attempted sexual assault since becoming a Belmont student.
More than 15 percent had been subjected to unwanted sexual contact.
In the same survey, twice as many homosexual and bisexual respondents reported being stalked, physically assaulted or made to do something humiliating or degrading compared to heterosexual respondents.
The comprehensive annual survey was sent out to all Belmont students last year with 1254 students — just 18 percent of the Belmont population — responding to all or part of the survey.
Some of the results are concerning to Molly Zlock, Director of Title IX Compliance and Prevention Programming.
“At Belmont, one sexual assault is too many. And if you look at 9.3 percent and think about how many are affected by that — it’s way too many,” said Zlock.
“And unwanted sexual contact, I feel like, sometimes gets diminished as less severe, but it can be very traumatizing.”
According to the annual security report released in September, there were eight “forcible sexual offenses” in 2016, five more than the previous year.
Of those 2016 offenses, six were reported rapes — four of which were in dorms. The other two were reported incidents of sexual fondling.
Despite the slight uptick in offenses, 93 percent of students who took the Campus Climate survey said they felt safe at Belmont.
Cameron Corey, a freshman, is one of them.
“My dad bought me one of those cat claw things to wear on my hand when I walk around, but I haven’t had to use it because I don’t feel unsafe,” she said.
“I’m usually with people, I don’t see anyone who’s threatening.”
However, not all Belmont students feel the same way.
The survey results indicated that Belmont’s LGBT students experienced noticeable differences not just in feelings of safety, but also in experiences of violence.
“LGBT sexual assault and domestic violence is an epidemic, and when we talk about sexual assault and domestic violence, somehow one of the communities that faces it at the highest rates gets erased a lot of the time,” said Belmont Bridge Builders President Hope Gipson.
“And I think by erasing them, we’re allowing it to happen. We’re allowing it to continue.”
According to the Campus Climate survey:
• 85 percent of homosexual males responded feeling safe, while 97 percent of heterosexual males responded the same way.
• 18 percent of homosexual respondents and 15 percent of bisexual students reported being stalked, compared to 7 percent of heterosexual respondents.
• 18 percent of homosexual respondents and 17 percent of bisexual respondents reported being pushed, shoved, kicked, slapped or grabbed against their will by a partner compared to only 5 percent of heterosexual respondents.
• 14 percent of homosexual respondents and 15 percent of bisexual respondents reported being made to do something humiliating or degrading by a partner compared to 6 percent of heterosexual respondents.
• 32 percent of homosexual respondents and 23 percent of bisexual respondents reported a partner denigrating the respondent’s family or friends compared to 13 percent of heterosexual respondents.
Zlock acknowledges these statistics are problematic, and she wants LGBT students to know they have resources.
“We do have some vulnerable communities on campus that we want to make sure are supported, and know that they are loved and feel just as comfortable as anybody else in utilizing our resources, and our policies and our procedures,” said Zlock.
In addition to the incidents against the Belmont LGBT community, Zlock said another concern raised by the survey was the lack of student knowledge in reporting a sexual assault to the university.
Slightly more than half of those who responded to that question on the survey said they knewhow to report an assault.
“The message I would like to get out is that if you’re ready to report a sexual assault or an attempted sexual assault to the university, you can come to Title IX and report it, you can tell a faculty member, or an RA, or an RD, you can go to Counseling Services,” Zlock said.
Another problematic trend across the board was a lack of comfort with bystander intervention. Only half of students who responded to the question said they would feel completely comfortable confronting students who make inappropriate sexual comments.
“Bystanders must start intervening. If you see a situation that makes you uncomfortable, listen to your intuition and intervene so long as it’s safe for you to do so. Sometimes the best intervention method is calling the police or campus security. We have to start being more involved in making that more of the social norm rather than the opposite,” said Zlock.
“Another thing we noticed from the survey is that the people who responded that they’d attended a bystander intervention program were more likely to intervene than those who did not.”
Gipson agrees that bystander intervention is an essential part of keeping the Belmont community safe.
“I think that people don’t want to step in because often people don’t know how to take accountability for their friends. In my experiences and what I’ve seen, people refuse to believe that their friends can be capable of something so horrible,” said Gipson. “It has to switch to a mentality of protecting victims and protecting people in those sort of situations.”
After noticing the trends on the survey, Zlock plans to create programs this year which focus on bystander intervention, along with other topics like sexual assault and healthy relationships.
She hopes more students will respond to the survey next spring so she can continue to better understand Belmont students’ experiences.
“I know it’s a very survey-heavy time of year, and they’re all important. But making the survey a thing that everyone partakes in, I think is really important to do.”
This article written by Melissa Kriz and Bronte Lebo.