Survey of UW Students Shows Decline in Sexual Misconduct

A recent survey shows that the percentage of University of Wyoming students who reported experiencing at least one instance of sexual assault at UW has declined by 11 percent since the last survey in 2018.

The drop is likely a result of the university’s implementation of an evidence-based prevention program called Green Dot, says Matt Gray, a UW Department of Psychology professor and an expert in sexual violence prevention and intimate partner violence who led both campus climate surveys.

“Though the numbers are still unacceptably high, they are encouraging, because we are seeing meaningful reductions in all variants of sexual misconduct at the university,” Gray says. “Arguably, this would not have happened without a significant investment in evidence-based prevention programming and support for enhanced trauma-specific mental health resources by the administration and the Board of Trustees in 2018.”

The survey conducted late last year found that, of the 2,223 students who responded, 405 — or 18.2 percent — reported experiencing at least one instance of sexual assault while at UW. Sexual assault was defined as any nonconsensual sexual touching or any attempted or completed act of nonconsensual oral, anal or vaginal sex resulting from force, threat of force or incapacitation. Even with the 11 percent drop from 2018, the new number is consistent with national averages at universities, Gray says.

With respect to gender and sexual assault, 23 percent of women, 11 percent of men and 12 percent of transgender, gender-variant and/or non-binary students reported experiencing at least one instance of sexual assault.

Other findings from the recent survey:

— An 18 percent reduction in reports of attempted or completed rape from 2018. Some 13 percent of respondents — 18 percent of women, 6 percent of men and 11 percent of transgender, gender-variant and/or nonbinary students — reported an experience of attempted or completed rape.

— A 27 percent decline in rates of reported intimate partner and dating violence since 2018. Some 20 percent of female respondents, 8 percent of male respondents and 22 percent of transgender, gender-variant and/or nonbinary students reported at least one instance of physical assault or dating violence by an intimate partner. Across all gender categories, this represents a 16 percent intimate partner and dating violence victimization rate experienced by students while at UW.

— Consistent with previous research, a sizable proportion — 28 percent — of those experiencing sexual assault had never told anyone about the incidents before this survey. Of those who did disclose their assaults to others, the majority reported these experiences to a close friend (81 percent), roommate (56 percent), romantic partner (40 percent) or parent (36 percent). Only 6 percent of those experiencing assault reported the assaults to UW faculty or staff members, and only 6 percent indicated that they made a complaint or filed a report with UW’s Dean of Students Office or through formal UW reporting mechanisms.

Overall, the findings of the recent UW survey are “unfortunately typical,” Gray says.

“These numbers are not spuriously high or atypical but, rather, indicative of the true prevalence of sexual violence among college students across the nation,” he says. “They also attest to the reality that the great majority of sexual assault survivors do not report their experiences to campus authorities, faculty or staff — and/or that the assaults in question did not occur on campus property and are, therefore, unrepresented among campus crime statistics reports.”

While the COVID-19 pandemic might have played a role in the decline of sexual misconduct reported in the survey, Gray says a comparison of freshmen and sophomores in 2018 to underclassmen in 2022 — after pandemic-related closures had ended — showed a drop in all rates of sexual misconduct. That discounts the pandemic as an explanation for the decrease.

The survey also showed that students indicating they had received Green Dot training, when compared with those without the training, reported engaging in more bystander interventions across numerous high-risk sexual misconduct situations; reported lower rape myth acceptance; and exhibited greater knowledge of sexual misconduct reporting and institutional response.

Green Dot is a national program that takes a comprehensive approach to violence prevention by targeting all community members as potential bystanders and seeking to engage them — through awareness, education and skills practice — in proactive behaviors that establish intolerance of sexual violence. At UW, 1,230 students, faculty and staff members have received Green Dot trainings, and plans are in place for a further rollout of the program on campus.

“In light of these broad and uniform findings, it appears that investment in evidence-based prevention programming is beginning to achieve greater campus safety,” Gray says. “Our work is not done by a long shot but, for the first time in nearly a quarter of a century of work in this area, I’m cautiously encouraged by improvements that can happen when evidence-based prevention and response are supported and funded.”

The complete survey results are here.