New Work to Combat Sexual Assault and Misconduct and Results of Climate Survey

June 16, 2016

Dear Members of the Georgetown University Community:

I am writing to share with you the results of the University’s first comprehensive climate survey of students on sexual assault and misconduct, and to update you on how the survey will inform our ongoing work to address sexual assault and misconduct on our campus.

Our community has been deeply committed to combating sexual assault and misconduct for many years – from being one of the nation’s first institutions to hire a full-time sexual assault coordinator in 1997 to the establishment of our Sexual Assault Working Group (SAWG) more than a decade ago. In recent years, we have worked with students, faculty and staff to expand significantly our efforts, focusing on education and prevention, support for survivors, and a prompt and equitable process to address complaints of sexual misconduct. You can learn more about our ongoing work in this area here.

We have engaged in this important work animated by the Jesuit value of cura personalis—care for each person—and the responsibility we have to ensure that all members of our community have the opportunity to fulfill their full promise and potential.

As part of our ongoing commitment to address sexual assault and misconduct, Georgetown launched its first comprehensive climate survey on sexual assault and misconduct in January of this year. The survey examined the prevalence and incidence of sexual assault in our community, attitudes among students about the campus climate regarding sexual assault, and knowledge of university resources available to students. More than half of our students participated in the survey, one of the highest participation rates in the nation for a climate survey.

Some of the most concerning findings regarding sexual misconduct tell us that, even with the strong foundation we have built, we must approach this work in new and different ways, with an ever deeper commitment to the well-being of our community.

The survey found that thirty-one percent of female undergraduate students report having experienced non-consensual sexual contact. This includes behaviors ranging from unwanted sexual touching to unwanted penetration, as a result of physical force or incapacitation. This is unacceptable.

In addition, the survey data indicate that many students do not feel comfortable intervening when they witness troubling situations, and although this finding is consistent with national trends, we must do better as a community to care for one another.

We are aware that alcohol and drugs can facilitate sexual assaults, and our survey confirms that this is true at Georgetown also.

Too many students experienced sexual harassment, defined in the survey as behavior that interferes with their academic performance or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive environment.

The survey also found that reporting of sexual assault and misconduct is too low and that students do not have a clear understanding of the many resources available to support them on campus. 

An overview of key findings and the complete survey report and tables can be found here

We do not tolerate sexual assault and misconduct on our campus. The survey findings underscore an urgent and critical need to continue to address sexual assault and misconduct and provide us the information we need to better target and focus our work.  Some of the action we take will be immediate, beginning in the coming days and weeks.  Some action will require ongoing, sustained effort.  All actions that we take will require the active engagement of our entire community.

Our immediate work will focus in the following areas:

Focus Groups. The survey findings tell us what is happening, but they do not tell us why. This fall, we will engage focus groups of students to gain deeper insights into the survey findings.  It is important to hear directly from students how we can best prevent and respond to sexual assault and misconduct on our campus.  The results will inform our work going forward.

Task Force.  We will establish a new Sexual Assault and Misconduct Climate Task Force comprised of students, faculty, and staff, many of whom have been long engaged in our Sexual Assault Working Group (SAWG).  This Task Force will be charged with helping us understand why sexual assault and misconduct occurs on our campus, what further commitments we can make to address this problem, and how we, as an institution, can increase reporting, knowledge of resources and trust in our policies and procedures.

The Task Force will recommend sustainable long-term approaches and action steps in the areas of reporting and resource awareness; bystander intervention; alcohol and drugs; metrics and evaluation; mandatory education; and vulnerable populations.

The Task Force will be co-chaired by Rosemary Kilkenny, J.D. (L’87), Vice President for Institutional Diversity and Equity, Todd Olson, Ph.D., Vice President for Student Affairs, and a student member of our community. 

In addition to convening the task force and focus groups, we will continue to strengthen our work in focused, targeted, and comprehensive ways. Two immediate areas include:

Required Annual Training. In the coming year, we will require all students to complete a training program that will address issues ranging from bystander education to sexual assault and misconduct, and substance abuse. This builds on and expands existing training resources and will be required annually.

Resource Awareness. This fall, we will implement a comprehensive resource awareness campaign that will address prevention, support for survivors, and campus resources to promote a culture of care and to ensure that students know how to report misconduct and how to get help when they need it.   

You will hear more about these efforts in the coming weeks and months.

We are grateful to our students who have shown a deep commitment to this work, and to all members of our community who will respond to this call for greater action and responsibility. We need your ideas and participation. All of you are critical to this effort.

This is a moment that demands our very best—that asks each of us to engage in difficult and critical conversations with openness and honesty, to take responsibility in creating a culture that does not tolerate sexual assault and misconduct.

This is a moment for us to demonstrate the care that we have for one another as members of the Georgetown community, and to live out the values that each of us must be committed to uphold.


John J. DeGioia