Executive Summary

The purpose of the Sexual Misconduct Survey conducted on the CU Boulder campus in fall 2015 was to understand the frequency and types of sexual misconduct experienced by CU students from the time they arrived on campus. 13,009 students (response rate=41%) participated in the survey.

In February 2015, CU Boulder released the Phase I analyses of the survey in order to provide data on prevalence rates for five categories of sexual misconduct:  sexual assault, sexual exploitation, sexual harassment, intimate partner abuse, and stalking for undergraduate and graduate women and men. The Phase I release also included data on the sample demographics, knowledge of campus resources for finding confidential support and for officially reporting incidents of sexual misconduct, and prevalence rates for encountering and intervening in situations to reduce the likelihood of sexual misconduct.

The Phase II data release will focus on analyses of:

  • Sexual assault and perpetrator characteristics
  • Reports of sexual misconduct:  who reports, who do victims tell about an incident, and what are the barriers to reporting?

Summary of Sexual Assault and Perpetrator Characteristics

Non-Consensual Behaviors and Tactics

  • Sexual assault is defined as non-consensual sexual contact or penetration.
  • The survey asked students if they had experienced any of 11 types of sexual contact or penetration without their consent since starting at CU Boulder.
  • To establish that these behaviors were non-consensual, the survey also asked about six tactics that could have facilitated the unwanted sexual contact or penetration:
    • Catching you off guard
    • Ignoring your efforts to get them to stop
    • Deception/manipulation/emotional threats
    • Incapacitation
    • Physical threats/intimidation
    • Force
  • Rates of sexual assault reported by the 13,009 students who took the survey were:
    • Overall: 15% (n=1990)
    • Undergraduate women: 28% (n=1545)
    • Undergraduate men: 6% (n=296)
    • Graduate women: 10% (n=111)
    • Graduate men: 2% (n=35)
  • Additional analyses examined sexual assault rates for those survey respondents who experienced non-consensual sexual touching (when it was the only assaultive behavior reported) facilitated by the single tactic of “catching you off guard and unexpectedly doing something you didn’t want.”  Those rates can be compared to rates for survey respondents who reported all other types of assaultive behaviors and tactics in the table below:


% who experienced non-consensual sexual touching by being caught off guard ONLY

% who experienced all other types of assaultive behaviors/tactics






Undergraduate women




Undergraduate men




Graduate women




Graduate men

< 1%



  • The most common forms of non-consensual sexual behaviors reported by female survey respondents were:
    • Intentionally touching your genitals or body parts in a sexual way
    • Attempted vaginal penetration
    • Vaginal penetration
  • The most common forms of non-consensual sexual behaviors reported by male survey respondents were:
    • Intentionally touching your genitals or body parts in a sexual way
    • Attempting to perform oral sex on you
    • Performing oral sex on you
  • The most frequently used tactics reported by survey respondents were:
    • Ignoring
    • Incapacitation
  • Force as a tactic was used to facilitate approximately one-third of non-consensual sexual behaviors.

Incident Characteristics

  • Locations where most sexual assaults occurred:
    • “off-campus residence in Boulder”: 45%
    • “off-campus location in Boulder”:  15%
    • For undergraduates, in a CU Boulder residence hall:  12%
  • The most common university-affiliated activity, event, or program associated with an incident of sexual assault was a Greek-associated event or activity (34%).

Perpetrator Characteristics

  • The overwhelming majority of perpetrators against females were men (95%).  This is also true for lesbian, bisexual, questioning, and asexual females, as well as for survey respondents who indicated that their sexual orientation was not included on the list of options.
  • For males, the majority of perpetrators were women (64%).  In the remaining cases for male victims, perpetrator gender was identified as: man (23%), not sure/prefer not to answer/missing (12%), transgender or genderqueer (< 1%).
  • Over 35% of undergraduate survey respondents did not answer the question that asked about the sexual assault perpetrator’s affiliation with CU Boulder as a student, employee, or faculty member.  Slightly fewer than half of all survey respondents indicated that the perpetrator was affiliated with CU Boulder:
    • Yes:  42%
    • No:  14%
    • Don’t know:  6%
    • Prefer not to answer: 3%
    • Did not answer: 35%
  • When asked about the relationship of the survey respondent and perpetrator, the most common relationships were:
    • Someone they didn’t know prior to the incident: 38%
    • Casual/non-romantic friend:  24%
    • Acquaintance: 20%
    • Casual dating partner: 7%
    • Former or current romantic partner or spouse: 7%
    • CU Employee:  <1%
  • When the perpetrator was “someone not previously known” to the survey respondent:
    • 53% of these assaults occurred in an “off-campus residence in Boulder”
    • 19% occurred in an “off-campus location in Boulder”
    • 5% occurred in a CU Boulder residence hall

Timing of Incidents

  • Over the calendar year, the majority of sexual assaults happen during fall semester:
    • 71% fall semester
    • 20% spring semester
    • 7% summer
    • 2% winter break
  • Among undergraduates who reported being sexually assaulted between 2012-2015, the majority of assaults happened to first-years, with a decline in rate from first to fourth+ year:
    • First-years:  67%
    • Second-years:  20%
    • Third-years:  9%
    • Fourth-years+:  4%
  • Sexual assault rates for first-year students in the fall 2015 semester were:
    • Undergraduate women:  13%
    • Undergraduate men:  3%
    • Graduate women:  6%
    • Graduate men:  1.5%

Experiences of Multiple Types of Sexual Misconduct

  • 79% of students who report having been sexually assaulted also report having experienced one other type of sexual misconduct; 17% report experiencing two other types, 4% three other types, and <1% report experiencing four additional types.

Action Item Highlights

  • Enhanced mandatory online course covering university policy on sexual misconduct and discrimination and harassment, affirmative consent, and campus resources for support and reporting. All students must complete the course and pass the quiz before arriving on campus. This is an item on students’ “to do” list when registering for classes for the first time and failure to complete this requirement prevents spring course registration.
  • Enhanced mandatory bystander intervention skills training – expand on noticing skills (perpetrator tactics, what to look for, and recognizing high risk environments), overcoming barriers to helping, and strategies for effectively intervening
    • Mandatory for all incoming students – course registration hold for spring if not completed during their first semester on campus
    • Booster sessions offered to all students including graduate students as well as staff and faculty
  • Residence Life campaign messaging, educational materials, and skill building on effective use of the buddy system (common pitfalls and how to avoid them)
  • Campus campaign (online, social media, and print materials) on bystander intervention skills to reinforce training on noticing and effective strategies (what to look for and recognizing high risk environments and skills for overcoming barriers to intervening)
  • Enhance new member education for all Greek chapters (first and second year members)
  • For a complete list of campus programs and efforts, please see the full Action Plan

Reports of Sexual Misconduct:  Who reports, who do victims tell about an incident, and what are the barriers to reporting?

Reporting Rates

  • Slightly more than half of survey respondents told anyone about an incident of sexual misconduct:
    • Sexual assault: 61%
    • Sexual exploitation: 45%
    • Intimate partner abuse: 56%
    • Stalking: 72%
  • Among survey respondents who told someone about an incident of sexual misconduct that happened to them:
    • The great majority (87-93%) reported confiding in a friend or roommate.
    • About 10% indicated that they talked with the Office of Victim Assistance (OVA), a confidential resource for receiving support following an incident of sexual misconduct.
    • Responses show that making an official report to the university or to police was rare (7-17%).
      • 92% of sexual assault victims indicated that they did not make an official report to the university or to police.

Barriers to Official Reporting

  • The primary reason that survey respondents didn’t officially report an incident of sexual misconduct was that they “did not think it was serious enough to report.”  This is true for all categories of sexual misconduct.
  • Among victims of sexual assault who did not officially report, 69% selected that they “did not think it was serious enough to report,” even though 25% had experienced vaginal or anal penetration or had been made to perform oral sex.
  • The majority who disclosed being sexually assaulted by the use of incapacitation, threat of force, or force and did not officially report the incident, most frequently chose “did not think it was serious enough to report” as the reason for not reporting.

What Prevented You From Officially Reporting the Sexual Assault?*

Did not think it was serious enough to report 69%
Fell at least partly at fault/not totally the other person's fault 30%
Did not want any action taken (arrests/legal charges 26%
Felt embarrassed/ashamed to tell anyone about it 25%
Lack of proof that the incident happened 20%
Did not want the person who did it to get into trouble 15%
Did not want to ruin the person's life orhurt their future 13%
Didn't think the university would do anything 12%
Did not know who I should tell 11%
Fear of being blamed or not believed by the person I would tell 10%
Didn't think the police would do anything 10%
Afraid of retaliation by the person who did it or by others 8%
Worried that CU would take action without my permission 7%
Fear of being treated with hostility by the person I would tell 5%
Worried CU would act against entire grp person belongs to 4%
Other reason 15%

*Respondents could choose all that applied

Action Item Highlights

  • Correcting misperceptions about the seriousness of sexual misconduct issues through educational campaigns (“Don’t Ignore It” and “Just Because”) and ongoing policy education
  • Increase recognition of what constitutes sexual assault (“Just Because” campaign)
  • Improve awareness of resources for support and reporting options (“Don’t Ignore It” and “How to Help a Friend” campaigns)
  • Pilot dual team investigative model for handling sexual assault cases to increase efficiency and improve upon the OIEC investigative timeframes
  • Establish Memorandums of Understanding between official reporting entities both on and off campus
  • Develop an online course for second year students with the goal of creating a multi-year “welcome back” course requirement for all years in order to provide ongoing, comprehensive education throughout the college years
  • For a complete list of campus programs and efforts, please see the full Action Plan