White House–mandated campus climate surveys likely to ignore male victims

Recently someone on my feed retweeted a reference to a study by Jennifer Freyd on sexual violence at the University of Oregon. I decided to spend some time looking into it, and what I found deeply disturbed me.

I’ll start from the beginning.

In one of the presentations of the study, authors Jennifer J. Freyd, Marina N. Rosenthal, and Carly Parnitzke Smith say this about their survey:

  • [The study is] designed to assess student experiences of sexual assault and harassment victimization, perpetration, and institutional behaviors, as well as student attitudes, educational engagement, and well‐being.
  • The project is similar to other studies we have completed in our laboratory and overlaps with the survey recently recommended by the White House.

Now that’s interesting. I wasn’t aware that there had been any concrete recommendations from the White House on sexual violence surveys.

When I try to find the survey recommended by the White House, I come across this paragraph in the White House Task Force to Protect Students From Sexual Assault recommendations published in April 2014:

1. Identifying the Problem: Campus Climate Surveys

The first step in solving a problem is to name it and know the extent of it – and a campus climate survey is the best way to do that. We are providing schools with a toolkit to conduct a survey – and we urge schools to show they’re serious about the problem by conducting the survey next year. The Justice Department, too, will partner with Rutgers University’s Center on Violence Against Women and Children to pilot, evaluate and further refine the survey – and at the end of this trial period, we will explore legislative or administrative options to require schools to conduct a survey in 2016.

It seems like Jennifer Freyd et al. are referring to the campus climate survey being developed by the Justice Department and Rutgers University and that Freyd and her colleagues are stating that their survey overlaps that one.

The study by Freyd et al. found a pretty high prevalence of female rape and a very low prevalence of male rape (0.0 – 0.8%). A likely reason for the low number of male rape victims becomes clear when we look at the methodology used:

Measures Used
Existing Scales:

Do not be fooled by the “Modified for gender neutral language” assertion. This revised SES is still adhering to Mary P. Koss’s belief that it’s inappropriate to consider as a rape victim a man who engages in unwanted sexual intercourse with a woman. The link I’ve provided to the methodology Freyd used includes all the questions asked in the survey. Students were asked whether they had someone penetrate their vagina or anus without their consent, and they were asked whether they had received or been made to give oral sex without their consent.

There are no questions that would capture a victim made to penetrate their perpetrator’s vagina or anus without the victim’s consent.

So rape is still not rape–and in this case it’s not even sexual assault (see the two slides on page 12 in this presentation).

I am beginning to get a bad feeling about this.

My Bad Feeling Is Confirmed

One could argue that even though this survey completely ignored a subset of male rape victims, it was just one survey done at one university. The White House Task Force is aiming at making campus climate surveys mandatory for all colleges and universities during 2016. So this isn’t just about one college. Surely the other colleges and universities will not exclude male victims from their surveys?

The White House Task Force recommendation report “Not Alone” provides a link (page 8) to a toolkit for schools to develop and conduct these climate surveys. That toolkit recommends using the Sexual Experiences Survey (SES) instrument developed by Mary P. Koss et al. on page 17:

In peer‐reviewed research, the most widely used and most researched tool is Koss’ Sexual Experiences Survey. It can be used to measure victimization and perpetration. It includes questions across the spectrum of sexual violence.

That description is telling and it is disturbing. What does the assertion that SES includes questions across the spectrum of sexual violence imply? The answer is that anything it doesn’t ask about is not on the spectrum of sexual violence. Hence, being made to penetrate someone’s vagina or anus is not even considered sexual violence, according to the SES.

A Hope Quickly Squashed

The White House Task Force does, however, go on to deliver a small hope since they in the next bullet point on page 17 also mention the NISVS methodology:

The 2010 CDC National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey used similar behaviorally specific questions that were developed in consultation with a panel of experts. This measure is similar to Koss’ and very comprehensive. It was developed to be administered in an interview format.

Even though the CDC’s National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Surveys (NISVS) did erase male victims of being made to penetrate from the rape statistics, they at least didn’t erase them completely like an SES-based survey would.

However, when I read farther along in the toolkit document, I notice that Chapter 2 includes “promising practice examples for a campus climate survey.” The introduction to that chapter states:

The questions below are examples that represent the best available promising practices in climate surveys. […] Some of the sample climate questions have not been validated, and this survey as a whole has not been validated. The Department of Justice is currently working toward validating the survey as a whole to produce an evidence‐based survey.

The following is what the Department of Justice is currently working toward validating as a mandatory campus climate survey (page 23):

This section asks about nonconsensual or unwanted sexual contact you may have experienced. When you are asked about whether something happened since [TIMEFRAME], please think about what has happened since [TIMEFRAME]. The person with whom you had the unwanted sexual contact could have been a stranger or someone you know, such as a family member or someone you were dating or going out with. These questions ask about five types of unwanted sexual contact:

a. forced touching of a sexual nature (forced kissing, touching of private parts, grabbing, fondling, rubbing up against you in a sexual way, even if it is over your clothes)

b. oral sex (someone’s mouth or tongue making contact with your genitals or your mouth or tongue making contact with someone else’s genitals)

c. sexual intercourse (someone’s penis being put in your vagina)

d. anal sex (someone’s penis being put in your anus)

e. sexual penetration with a finger or object (someone putting their finger or an object like a bottle or a candle in your vagina or anus)

Note how they define sexual intercourse above. Apparently men can’t have sexual intercourse. That is ridiculous, but it is a good example of the contortion needed to not include all types of male victims. They have taken this list more or less straight from the SES, and the faint hope I had in this being done properly when they mentioned the NISVS is promptly squashed.

Last Ray of Hope?

Rutger University is officially piloting the campus climate survey, and I hope they will implement the due diligence to ensure that male victims of sexual violence aren’t erased by the choice of survey instruments. The results they’ve released so far from this process are inconclusive in regards to what instruments they will use and whether the survey will exclude any male victims. The name of the center at Rutgers University that will lead the survey efforts on campus does not do much to assuage me: Center on Violence Against Women and Children (VAWC).

It would be a huge step backwards for the issue of male rape if surveys being done nationwide on all campuses end up erasing many male victims.

I guess my last ray of real hope is you.

That you’ll help spread the call that the campus climate surveys shouldn’t use the SES methodology but rather use instruments that will include all victims of sexual violence. That you, by passing this call forward through your network and asking them to pass it on, will succeed in making the call being heard and heeded by the White House Task Force, Department of Justice, and Rutgers University Center on Violence Against Women and Children.

Thank you.

Recommended Content