Attitudes about sexual assault are improving at BYU, study says

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A recent study shows attitudes about sexual assault are improving at BYU. Data source: “Changes in Attitudes Towards Sexual Assault at BYU” (Harriet Norcross)

Attitudes towards sexual assault have improved at BYU since 2011, according to a recent study conducted by BYU psychology professor Melissa Jones and undergraduate students: Meagan Andrus, Erica Bennett, Albana Reategui and Tianna Chandler.

The study, titled “Changes in Attitudes Towards Sexual Assault at BYU,” was completed in September but has yet to be published.

In the study, researchers compared results from a 2011 survey about students’ views on sexual assault to the results of an identical survey conducted in 2019.

Both surveys included 33 yes/no questions and two open-ended questions that asked about inappropriate dating experiences participants had heard about or experienced. The yes/no questions asked students if they would classify certain scenarios as rape and if they believed female rape victims were partly to blame in certain scenarios.

In 2011, 83 survey participants were male and 65 were female, while in 2019, 76 were male and 75 were female.

The data reveals that students today are less likely than students in 2011 to blame victims of rape or to excuse sexual assault.

The study found that 40% more female participants disagreed that a woman is partly responsible for her rape if she is in a man’s bedroom.

There was also a 25% increase in male participants who disagreed that a woman is partly responsible for her rape if she changes her mind during sex. 

82% of female participants reported having experienced sexually inappropriate encounters, in contrast to 54% of males.

One of the open-ended questions asked participants about the worst experiences they had heard about sexual assault. The majority of female participants answered with personal experiences or things experienced by close friends or family members. Male participants tended to answer with events they’d learned about from the news. 

Of the women who had not experienced sexual assault, some indicated they considered themselves “lucky,” while none of the men mentioned this idea.

According to the study, these responses imply that sexual assault is more “personal and close” to women than to men.

“For females, it is a matter of luck if something has not happened to you,” states the study. “For men, it is unusual if something has happened.”

Among the female participants’ recorded experiences, trends included “emotional pressure to do something they didn’t want to do, feeling ashamed when they refused, and being taken somewhere against their will/lied to and told they could not go home unless they performed a sexual act.”

Of the female participants, 36% reported having experienced nonconsensual/unwanted touching or groping and 20% recounted experiences of unwanted kissing or making out.

One purpose of this study was to gauge how recent events concerning sexual assault and the resulting social effects have impacted the public consciousness at BYU.

Following national attention and a Title IX violation investigation because of mismanagement of a reported case of sexual assault and an Honor Code investigation, BYU adopted several changes to improve how the university addresses student needs regarding sexual assault in 2016.

Two positions were created: a full-time Title IX coordinator in place of a part-time position and a victim advocate/confidential advisor. The Title IX Office was moved to a separate location awau from the Honor Code Office and a new policy was adopted to ensure the Title IX Office does not share information about a complainant with the Honor Code Office without that person’s consent. An amnesty clause was also adopted.

The study also mentioned the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements that occurred around the same time as the changes at BYU in 2016, during which women came forward about their own experiences of sexual assault.

“With the growth of these movements, the ways both men and women think about sexual assault have changed and continue to change,” the study states.

BYU continues with efforts to improve attitudes and resources about sexual assault. On campus, the Title IX Office and Women’s Services and Resources co-sponsor Sexual Assault Awareness Month in April, with a variety of activities including an event about the meaning of consent meant to raise awareness and educate students about sexual assault.

Title IX at BYU also has an online webpage dedicated to educating and raising awareness about dating violence, domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking. The website also urges students to take action against such issues. The page includes links to informational fact sheets, safety prevention tips and resources for victims and their family and friends.

According to the study, students in 2019 have a stronger understanding of consent and “fewer students adhere to common rape myths” compared to students who answered the survey in 2011.

“We do believe that this study indicates a trend towards greater understanding of rape myths, consent and sexual assault at BYU,” the summary states.

However, the study says there is still room for improvement. 

“Sixteen percent of male participants in 2019 believe females share the responsibility of being raped if they are dressed immodestly,” the summary states.

However, the study acknowledges that its small sample size means the data might fail to adequately reflect the beliefs and trends of the entire student body of 33,000 persons.

The researchers stated in the study that they “urge further study.”

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