Blog

EverFi Expands Higher Education And Enterprise Focus With Acquisition Of Compliance Education Leader LawRoom
Posted by On Thursday, July 21, 2016

LREFimage

Combination Creates One of Education’s Largest Players with Over 3,000 Major Customers and 6 Million Annual Learners

EverFi, the leading education technology company focused on critical skills and prevention education for K-12, higher education and adult learners, today announced the acquisition of compliance education leader LawRoom. With the addition of LawRoom, EverFi grows its customer base to 3,300 partners, including 2,000 corporations, foundations, and nonprofits and over 1,300 higher education institutions.

The acquisition includes LawRoom subsidiary CampusClarity, which together with EverFi forms the industry’s largest campus prevention education provider. The combination of EverFi’s proven efficacy in alcohol abuse and sexual violence prevention along with CampusClarity’s flexible platform and compliance expertise will help campuses more effectively deliver and scale prevention education for students, faculty, and staff.

Together, EverFi and CampusClarity will also form the Campus Prevention Network, a nationwide coalition of over 1,300 higher education institutions that are committed to student wellness and safety. Through the Campus Prevention Network, colleges and universities will have access to award-winning online prevention training, regulatory compliance expertise, dynamic tracking and reporting, and groundbreaking prevention research based on the largest global dataset of attitudes and behaviors related to sexual assault and substance abuse.

“Whether for a student on a college campus or an employee in a corporation, innovative and proven digital education can help shape how we engage learners to prevent sexual violence and harassment,” said EverFi CEO Tom Davidson. “We now have an opportunity to welcome every campus and employer into our magnified network and truly tackle these issues at scale.”

The EverFi Campus Prevention Network will reach over five million higher education students and staff across the U.S. annually, including public and private colleges and universities, community colleges, and state university systems. EverFi partners now include Boston College, Carnegie Mellon, Clemson University, Georgetown University, Harvard, MIT, the Montana University System, Princeton University, Oklahoma State University, Oregon State University, University of Michigan, Stanford University, Technical College System of Georgia, Tennessee Board of Regents System, University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, the University of Texas System, University of Virginia, Villanova University, and Virginia Polytechnic Institute.

Among LawRoom’s corporate compliance education customers are Acxiom, Barracuda Networks, Cathay Pacific, Kimpton Hotels, Informatica, the Los Angeles Lakers, the Miami Heat, Patagonia, Samsung, SurveyMonkey, UFC Gym, and TIBCO. The combined company will not only ensure proven compliance training for enterprises, but also provide the additional cutting-edge skills that the next-generation employee needs to be successful across the globe.

###

About EverFi, Inc.

EverFi, Inc. is the education technology leader that empowers K-12, higher education, and adult learners with the skills needed to be successful in life and work. With investments from some of technology’s most innovative leaders including Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, Google Chairman Eric Schmidt, Twitter founder Evan Williams, and venture investors New Enterprise Associates and Rethink Education, EverFi has built the most comprehensive digital learning platform that serves K-12, higher education, and adult learners. EverFi partners with over 3,300 customers and 20,000 K-12 schools to bring its innovative learning platform to learners across the country. Learn more at everfi.com.

Media Contact: 
Brian Cooley
brian@ everfi.com
202-625-0011 x352


Ethics and Aesthetics: Affordance Theory
Posted by On Tuesday, July 12, 2016

To kick off our Ethics and Aesthetics series we discussed the aesthetic-usability effect, and offered some theories on why beautiful things tend to work better. In our second post, we will examine J. J. Gibson’s theory of affordances, and how the animal propensity for action shapes our perception of objects and their function.

J.J. Gibson was one of the most influential psychologists in the field of visual perception. In his book “The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception,” he outlined his theory of affordances, which designers continue to rely on today. The theory of affordances states that we perceive objects in the world in terms of how their properties may enable actions, and not by the properties themselves. The movie 2001: A Space Odyssey has a great example of an affordance when a Paleolithic man-ape extracts a long, heavy femur bone from a dry animal carcass and realizes that it affords smashing, and proceeds to use it to beat and kill the leader of a rival tribe. Indeed, our earliest record of inter-group violence between humans indicates that club-like objects were employed to inflict blunt force injury, and prehistoric bone clubs have been excavated in the Pacific Northwest.  Long bones were therefore utilized as clubs because their shape afforded grasping, and their weight afforded causing bodily damage.

In our training courses, we use affordance theory to better engage our users. Like designers who make physical objects, interaction designers use affordance theory to ensure that users have an intuitive understanding of what objects on the screen do, even without explicit instructions. Unlike physical objects, digital objects don’t have predetermined weight, form, or shape. Therefore, designers give interactive elements properties that suggest an associated action. For example, a button shaded to appear convex affords clicking, since it resembles the shadow of physical buttons. Skeumorphism is a technique that uses metaphoric affordances to make conceptual connections between digital objects and physical ones. A digital dashboard that mimics the look of a car dashboard immediately clues users in as to its function (i.e.  a control panel through which you can access different instruments.)

We have historically gotten great feedback on the Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) Calculator in Think About It, our course on sexual violence and substance abuse prevention for college students. Students find it fun to input different values for gender, weight, number and type of drinks, and time elapsed into the calculator to see how it affects BAC. The apparatus is designed with looping tubes, sliders, and digital readouts. These exaggerated technological features make it reminiscent of a slightly kitschy retrofuturistic toy. It is one of the more popular features of the course.

Due to its popularity, we discussed the idea of making the BAC calculator into an app that students could download and use at parties so that they might have a better idea of their BAC “in the field,” so to speak. However, we realized that the toy-like nature of the interaction was more afforded to “having fun” than “accurately measuring BAC as a way to stay safe.” In other words, making the BAC calculator available as a portable app may actually encourage students to overdrink by making it into a party game. Competition is one of the top cited reasons for college students for playing drinking games. Like traditional breathalizers that have become party games, the BAC calculator spits out a number, which can appear score-like and encourage competition. So we decided to keep the tool located inside the course to increase its informative affordance and reduce its impetus-to-imbibe affordance.

When designing features for our courses, we aim to be thoughtful about the social, political, and ideological context for its use. Affordance theory gives us a useful tool to analyze how well we are doing. However, nothing compares to direct user feedback, so please don’t hesitate to reach out to us with your thoughts!


Breaking Down the Barriers to Reporting
Posted by On Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Understanding why students are hesitant to report sexual assault is the first step to building better, more supportive responses.

College and university administrators are working hard to improve how they handle student sexual assaults by reworking their student handbooks, reconsidering their disciplinary procedures, and retraining their faculty and staff. Unfortunately, the impact of these efforts and improvements can go unnoticed. According to a BJS study, “more than 3 in 4 student victims of rape and sexual assault knew the offender.” These assaults often occur near the home of the victim/friend/relative/acquaintance, which means they can happen right on campus in the dorms, fraternity houses, or other areas. As such administrative safety measures should be present enough for the student population to be aware of and help them to feel safer on campus.

This article will explore some of the barriers to reporting, how some students view existing sexual violence prevention efforts, and ways administrators can bridge those gaps.

Students are Uncertain Whether Reporting Will Actually Help

In dealing with the aftermath of being sexually assaulted on her school’s campus, Hayley Himmelman, a Communication student at Northwestern University, felt that the issue of sexual violence has been getting buried at many institutions. To expose the problem, Himmelman produced a play called “Blue Lights,” based on a collection of interviews conducted with fellow NU students that portrays sexual violence, as well as what a healthy relationship looks like.

According to an online article published by the Daily Northwestern, “The play is centered on the University’s blue light phones placed on and off campus, which serve as quick ways to report crime and emergencies.” But the blue lights represent something else to Himmelman: a façade. “…the administration can point to [the blue lights] and say, ‘[t]hat’s, you know, how we protect our students from harm,’” said Himmelman, who believes that the lights give students a “false sense of security.”

The lights are installed. The system is in place. But to students who continue to experience sexual violence—whether at NU or other campuses—they are not enough. Even with these blue lights, or any of the other campus safety resources at their disposal on College and University campuses, many students choose silence over reporting. The reality for Hayley and for many other survivors is that assault can happen even while on campus. Make sure that students have victim support services and confidential counseling to go to for more information.

Alongside ensuring that students know where to go and what to do, it’s crucial that colleges make the reporting process well-known and foster a respectful, victim-centered, and secure environment on campus.

Here are some actions administrators can take on campus to create a safer and more supportive climate:

Increase the presence of campus security patrols on foot and in vehicles

  • Along with patrolling the more isolated areas on campus, it’s also a good idea to have campus security located in visible and high traffic areas, such as main entrances, and parking lots.
  • Having security patrol around campus acts both as deterrence for perpetrators, as well as sources who can witness and intervene in a potential assault or an assault in progress.
  • Have the campus security office be a well-known location so students can get help when needed.

Use emails and flyers to help reach out to the community and enhance communication between administration and the student body

  • Make these materials non-judgmental, easily accessible, detailed, and containing information such as steps to take before or after an assault and resources to reach out to.

Incorporate educational and prevention programs

  • “Sexual assault is a learned behavior,” states an article posted by the AAUW. “By fostering a campus culture of gender equity and respect through programming, “Sexual training, and awareness campaigns, faculty and staff can help prevent sexual assault. Faculty can also incorporate the issue of sexual assault into their curriculum whenever possible and whenever relevant to course content. Faculty and staff can also offer student workshops facilitated by trained faculty, staff, and students on campus.”

Students are Unaware of Available Resources on Campus

campus climate survey conducted by the Association of American Universities (AAU) in September 2015 revealed that “[a]bout a quarter of the students generally believe they are knowledgeable about the resources available related to sexual assault and misconduct.” Over 150,000 students from 27 participating institutions took this survey, but 75% of them aren’t aware of their schools’ resources.

Even the best-developed program will be ineffective if 75% of the students on campus don’t know about it. Here are some things administrators can do on campus to make sure students know about campus resources:

Organize and participate in public awareness initiatives

  • Having administrators be present on campus shows students that the school cares about their knowledge and safety, which helps make the campus a more accepting place. Consider which existing campus organizations and resources the school can engage to help set up these initiatives.
  • Some educational and public awareness initiatives that spread information and support to students include It’s on UsWhite Ribbon Campaign, and Take Back the Night.

All colleges and universities should have a Title IX Coordinator

  • As someone who is responsible for overseeing all complaints of sexual misconduct and discrimination, as well as identifying and addressing patterns and problems on campus, this role is very important to aiding in student safety. The American Association of University Women (AAUW) published a post on this matter, stating that “The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights released helpful tools to provide Title IX Coordinators with vital resources to help them do their jobs better. Faculty and staff can help by making sure that these materials get into the hands of as many coordinators as possible to help them make sure students have access to educational opportunities.”
  • The Title IX Coordinator’s information can be included on class syllabi, posted fliers, newsletters, and definitely should be easily found on the school website. An email address, office number, and phone extension are helpful contact options for students to consider when reaching out for help.

Underreported Sexual Assaults Misrepresent the Scope of the Problem

11.2% of all students have experienced a form of sexual assault while on campus, and not many report the incident afterward. Mistrust of the reporting process contributes to sexual violence being a drastically underreported crime. The AAU’s climate survey revealed that “[a] relatively small percentage (e.g., 28% or less) of even the most serious incidents are reported to an organization or agency (e.g., Title IX office; law enforcement).”

Incidentally, underreporting can lead to a common belief that sexual violence is made out to be a bigger issue than it really is. However, the data shows that reports of sexual assault on college campuses have been on the rise in the past few years. As of February 2016, the Office for Civil Rights in the Department of Education is investigating 208 cases of civil rights violations involving sexual assault reports at 167 colleges and universities. And as college students become more aware of sexual misconduct and how to recognize it—through training programs, news stories, and so on—the number of reports are likely to continue rising, as long as students feel comfortable about reporting and know about (and trust) their school’s available resources.

Properly addressing reports of sexual violence is crucial to fostering an environment that encourages reporting. The more incidents that go unreported, the less information administrators have about the true scope of the issue.

survey of about 650 university presidents showed that ‘[a]bout one-third (32 percent) of respondents agree or strongly agree that sexual assault is prevalent at American colleges and universities. But few presidents (6 percent) agree or strongly agree that sexual assault is prevalent at their institution.” With the recognition that sexual assault can happen at any campus, administrators are better able to address and be proactive about tackling the situation on their campus.

How Survivors Can Feel Safer Coming Forward

The Department of Education released resources to help improve campus climate, stating that “Research shows that students learn best when they are in environments in which they feel safe, supported, challenged, and accepted… By improving school climate, schools lay the foundation for improving daily school attendance and high achievement by all students.”

In order to reach that level of safety, students must feel comfortable with and confident in the resources provided by their school. Students should know there is someone to talk to and that their claim will be taken seriously. By reaching out to the student body—through training courses, well-marked signs, an easy to navigate website, posters/flyers, and the suggestions listed throughout this post—administrators can better equip students with the knowledge and confidence they need to report.

Though the overall goal is to reduce incidences of sexual misconduct, administrators must first be aware of the magnitude of the issue. A more aware and responsive administration can encourage students to report sexual violence—which informs how administration can resolve sexual violence on campus—and opens the door for further opportunities to support. Increased student reporting and effective administrative response can feed back on each other, creating a safer, more equitable campus.

Here are some additional options to consider:

  • Some college and university campuses have adopted the use of technology as a tool to enhance safety measures, “like video surveillance, swipe entry cards, emergency text message notification, and blue light emergency phone systems.” Consider which safety methods might be a good addition to a college campus.
  • Fix every broken or dim light on campus (including parking lots, pathways, halls, and lobbies). Students should be able to see where they are going and who is around them. This can provide benefits like students attending more night classes and reducing other crimes, like theft.
  • “Get out of the office, walk the campus, and listen to students, staff, and the community,” states a University Business article on creating a more secure campus, “People will feel safer if you are among them. Listening to them can also alleviate quite a bit of anxiety, which often comes out of the feeling that the school foes not care about them individually.”

Learn how to prepare students for the challenges and responsibilities of college life through online compliance training. For more information, visit CampusClarity’s home page.


FERPA Compliance and Sexual Assault
Posted by On Thursday, June 2, 2016

The administrative burden placed on colleges and universities across the nation by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) “must not be understated,” and FERPA has been described this way: “the law was enacted hastily, poorly written, and, from its adoption, has begged review.” Salzwedel, M. & Ericson, J. “Cleaning Up Buckley.” Wisconsin Law Review, 2003: 1053, 1065. The stakes are also high: federal funds may be withdrawn from a school that has a “policy or practice” of releasing a student’s education records.

A recent case emphasizes the complexity of applying FERPA regulations and the importance of FERPA training. In an op-ed piece in the New York Times Magazine, Jon Krakauer, author of Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town, described his lawsuit against Montana’s Commissioner of Higher Education to force the release of education records from a disciplinary proceeding involving sexual assault allegations against a University of Montana football player.

But the issues involved are broader than Krakauer’s research for a new book. The US Department of Education filed an amicus brief in the Krakauer case to clarify FERPA principles at issue in the case, and journalists and news media organizations filed an amicus brief to defend freedom of the press.  Krakauer’s lawsuit challenges the school’s interpretation of FERPA — the University claims FERPA prohibits disclosing the football player’s private education records. Krakauer’s case was heard by the Montana Supreme Court on April 27th and the court’s decision will provide a rare high court interpretation of the labyrinth of FERPA regulations which school administrators, faculty, and staff must wade through.

The Department of Education’s amicus brief also argued that is has a “strong interest” in UM’s compliance with Title IX, noting UM’s 2013 resolution agreement with the Office for Civil Rights. In its 2014 Q&A on Title IX as well as the 2001 Revised Sexual Harassment Guidance, the Department pointed out the relationship between FERPA and Title IX regarding information about the outcome of a sexual harassment complaint and the due process rights of accused individuals.

Together with Title IX training, educating employees about basic FERPA principles allows them to recognize FERPA issues when handling education records, protecting student privacy rights, and helping schools comply with both their FERPA and Title IX obligations in a wide range of school activities.


OCR’s UVA Title IX Findings and Resolution
Posted by On Wednesday, May 11, 2016

As schools wind down the 2015-2016 academic year and plan for 2016-2017, it’s an opportunity to look back at how Title IX policies, procedures, and prevention programs can be improved for effectiveness and Title IX compliance. To help guide this effort, it’s instructive to look at the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights’ resolution agreement with the University of Virginia, which is the most recent real case study of Title IX compliance. While the OCR found that UVA’s sexual assault and sexual misconduct policies violated Title IX, UVA’s revised policies and procedures for investigating and resolving reports of sexual harassment and violence have the OCR’s stamp of approval.

From the OCR’s UVA investigation and guidance documents, we’ve compiled the following list of essential steps to achieving Title IX compliance and increasing campus safety.

Title IX Coordinator

In April 2015, the OCR issued a Dear Colleague Letter reminding schools that receive federal financial assistance to designate at least one employee who has the time, training, and authority to address complaints, as well as coordinate and oversee the school’s efforts to comply with Title IX and related laws. The DCL states that this Title IX coordinator should report directly to “senior leadership,” such as the college or university president, to avoid any conflicts of interest. Schools should not designate persons with other job duties that may interfere with their ability to fair and impartial. Another takeaway from the DCL is that interfering with a Title IX coordinator’s efforts to do their job violates Title IX’s anti-retaliation provision.

A Letter to Title IX Coordinators was also issued with a Resource Guide explaining their responsibilities and authority. These documents emphasize the importance of each school having a dedicated person who has the necessary training to coordinate responses to all reports and complaints raising Title IX issues.

Title IX Policies

The Resource Guide emphasizes that Title IX coordinators play an important role to ensure a nondiscriminatory environment. Specifically, the OCR recommends that Title IX coordinators should be involved in drafting and revising a school’s Title IX policies and grievance procedures to make sure they:

  • Explain prohibited behavior and conduct proceedings in plain English
  • Define prohibited behavior the same across all policies
  • Encourage reporting

Additionally, policies and procedures should be made available in places where they are easily found, applied uniformly in all cases involving sexual/interpersonal harassment or violence against students, and reviewed at least annually, and sooner if laws change.

The White House Task Force’s Resource Guide and notalone.gov provide checklists and model definitions of prohibited conduct.  In addition, the Association for Student Conduct Administration offers these recommendations:

  • Define consent and incapacitation (intoxicated vs. incapacitated)
  • State that students or the institution may initiate a complaint
  • Do not place time limits on filing a complaint
  • Encourage reporting by including an amnesty policy for conduct violations involving alcohol or drugs at or near the time of the incident

Grievance Proceedings

The OCR’s Q&A states that provisions for “adequate, reliable, and impartial investigation of complaints, including the opportunity for both the complainant and alleged perpetrator to present witnesses and evidence,” should be included in a school’s grievance procedures.  And Title IX requires schools to “adopt and publish grievance procedures providing for the prompt and equitable resolution of student and employee sex discrimination complaints.” (OCR on Title IX and Sexual Violence, C-1)

A school’s resources and support, not Title IX, determine the most appropriate adjudication model to determine the facts of a case. The most common models are:

  • Single investigator
  • Administrative or panel hearing
  • Hybrid of hearing and single investigator models

Appearance of Conflict of Interest

In the OCR’s UVA Letter of Finding, it found an “appearance of a conflict of interest” based on the multiple roles played by a key individual in the panel hearing process: “the same individual went from being tasked under the [Sexual Misconduct Policy] to ‘identify forms of support or immediate interventions’ for the complainant to being a neutral decision-maker, and then to possibly defending a decision of the [Sexual Misconduct Board] Panel on appeal.” UVA LOF, p. 15)

Since most of these cases involve “he said-she said” situations with alcohol or drug impairment, it is critical that decisions are made by  persons who are impartial and trained in the complexities of sexual assault, where the effects of trauma can affect victims’ reactions and ability to recall details. The Association for Student Conduct Administration has put together a list of training topics for adjudicators and hearing board members. (See ASCA’s Student Conduct Administration & Title IX: Gold Standard Practices for Resolution of Allegations of Sexual Misconduct on College Campuses, Appendix A.)

It is interesting to note that the Commonwealth of Virginia is considering a system of resolving sexual assault cases outside of universities made up of impartial trained investigators, which was first proposed by John Banzhaf, a public interest law professor at George Washington University.

While OCR guidance and court orders don’t provide specific answers, they provide guidelines that allow flexibility to address misconduct in a way that reflects your student population and administrative resources, as long as the response is prompt and impartial.

Prompt and equitable

When evaluating policies and procedures, the OCR looks for these critical elements to meet the “prompt and equitable” standard for Title IX compliance:

  • Notice to students and employees of the procedures, including where complaints may be filed;
  • Application of the procedures to complaints alleging discrimination and harassment carried out by employees, other students, or third parties;
  • Provision for adequate, reliable, and impartial investigation of complaints, including the opportunity for both the complainant and respondent to present witnesses and other evidence;
  • Designated and reasonably prompt timeframes for the major stages of the complaint process;
  • Written notice to both parties of the outcome of the complaint and any appeal; and
  • Assurance that the recipient will take steps to prevent recurrence of any sex discrimination or harassment found to have occurred, and to correct its discriminatory effects on the complainant and others, if appropriate. (OCR’s UVA LOF.

Basically, if a school’s policies and procedures contain these Title IX elements they also satisfy due process requirements afforded to students attending public institutions, which require:

  • Written notice of the allegations and nature of the evidence; and
  • A fair opportunity to present the student’s position, explanations, and evidence.

We’ve previously written about due process requirements, including the differences between conduct proceedings vs. criminal trials, and the right to cross-examine witnesses. As pointed out in our post, the OCR’s position on allowing the accused to question adverse witnesses through the hearing officer – but not direct cross examination – does not violate constitutional due process.

Campus Climate Surveys

In order to inform these policies, procedures, and prevention programs each school should conduct an annual “climate assessment” to gather data from students about incidents of sexual harassment and violence, find ways to encourage reporting, and develop prevention strategies that meet the needs of your campus community. The primary goal of the AAU climate survey was to inform policies to prevent and respond to sexual assault and misconduct.

In addition to informing policies and creating effective prevention strategies, conducting campus climate surveys provides critical data for allocating resources, which we have written extensively about on this blog. And the OCR has required climate surveys in several resolution agreements: University of Virginia, Michigan State University, Ohio State UniversityUniversity of Montana, Southern Methodist University, Lehigh University, Harvard Law School, Lyon College, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, University of Dayton, Cedarville University, Glenville State College, Kentucky Wesleyan College, State University of New York, Rockford University.

Conclusion

Every college and university has a unique student population with its own culture and complexity. Our goal at CampusClarity is to provide useful information to help all schools reach a common goal:  create policies, procedures, and prevention programs that eliminate sexual harassment on campus, off campus, and online.


Transforming Climate Surveys From a Compliance Trend to Sexual Assault Prevention
Posted by On Thursday, April 14, 2016

College campuses, along with many states and the federal government, have all recognized the need for campus climate surveys on a near-universal level. Climate surveys provide the ability to achieve a more comprehensive understanding of the sexual assault problems that occur regularly on college campuses, giving insight to perpetration and victimization trends.

Compliance trends show that climate surveys will soon be required at all higher education institutions in the near future. Incidentally, a climate survey can do more than just help schools meet legal requirements – they can help institutions go far beyond compliance. Compliance currently focuses on education and response, but to benefit the students on your campus, your efforts have to focus on prevention as well.

Instead of just providing the administration with data, climate surveys can become an important tool for the prevention of sexual assault. As we wrote about previously, there are three different types of prevention:

  • Primary Prevention: Addressing an issue before it happens
  • Secondary Prevention: Dealing with the immediate effects of an issue
  • Tertiary Prevention: Managing the long-term effects of an issue

Climate surveys can – and should – fit in to each of the three categories of prevention for a number of important reasons. One, of course, is to stay student-centric. And another is for the importance of proving the value of climate surveys. It is much easier to convince folks to allocate funds to something that is prevention-focused rather than simply retroactive. Let’s break the value of climate surveys down into the three categories of prevention.

Primary prevention is often the only thing people consider when thinking about prevention. It is also often the hardest to fathom. Climate surveys serve as a primary prevention technique through providing definitions of words like sexual assault, rape, consent, and incapacitated. Unfortunately, many perpetrators don’t even realize what they’re doing is wrong, and so by educating potential perpetrators on the weight of their actions, they will be less likely to commit sexual assault. Also, climate surveys show that the institution is taking the problem of sexual assault on campus seriously, and thus adding a deterrent to committing sexual assault. Primary prevention (different from risk reduction), or addressing sexual assault before it occurs, can really only be done by preventing perpetrators from perpetrating. Luckily, climate surveys do this in a couple of ways.

Secondary prevention manages the immediate affects of sexual assault. Climate surveys can be considered secondary prevention because they allow survivors to disclose sexual assault in a safe and anonymous way, which is shown to be healing and therapeutic for many survivors. Climate surveys also can provide students with resources about where to get support if they have been impacted by sexual assault.

Another way climate surveys can be considered secondary prevention is through their usage as a data collection tool. The data received from climate surveys can allow administrators to strengthen and target education and programming by identifying perpetration and victimization trends on campus, thus trying to improve the immediate impacts of sexual assault.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, climate surveys are a great tool for tertiary prevention – if done correctly. Tertiary prevention manages the long-term effects of sexual assault. Distributing a climate survey shows that the institution has a commitment to preventing sexual assault, supporting survivors, and addressing the campus climate. However, one mishandling, or even the perception of such, can harshly impact a student’s trust of the institution. Climate surveys can remediate this distrust and show that resources are being allocated toward stopping sexual assault.

To develop, redevelop, or strengthen student trust, there are some beneficial actions a school can make to within their climate survey implementation.

  • Be intentional with language: Talking about sexual assault can be complicated. Not everyone will identify the incident or incidents that happened to them as sexual assault, and not everyone who experienced sexual assault will consider themselves a survivor. Make sure that you’re being clear about what the survey is about while also being careful about putting labels on people and situations.
  • Test subject lines: The subject of your emails could make all of the difference in who opens the email and who clicks on the link to the survey. If you’re missing respondents of a certain demographic, try out a different subject line that could attract a different set of students. At the end of the day, it is extremely important that the survey respondents are a representative sample of your student body.
  • Test drop-off rates: No matter how many times you think and re-think your survey questions, there could always be something that is triggering or challenging for students. If a question like this does exist, it might be important to know before a full deployment of the survey. Similarly, if the survey is too long, there might be a certain place where users lose interest in completing the survey. Test the survey with a small sample first – either students or non-students – to determine the drop-off rates and locations.
  • Use incentives: Having a large respondent pool will yield the most accurate and representative results. To get a large sample size, offer incentives for survey completion. However, make sure you know how much, or what kind, of incentive will be most appealing to your students. Simply giving out more money may not lead to more respondents.
  • Ensure accessibility: As with online courses, it is important that a survey is WCAG 2.0 AA compliant. It isn’t possible to get a true sample of the campus population if a specific demographic of students is unable to respond to the survey. It is also important to note that identities intersect, and that folks with disabilities are just as, if not more, impacted by sexual violence.
  • Design for mobile optimization: Around 30% of students take climate surveys on their smartphones.  It is important that students can take the survey on any type of device that they own (tablet, phone, laptop, etc.). This is especially important for low-income students who may not own a personal computer.
  • Include content warnings: Using specific language is important in order to achieve accurate results. However, it is equally as important to warn students about the content included in the survey so that they can emotionally prepare themselves. This helps to build trust and display transparency.

Going beyond compliance means not just creating a climate survey to meet a legal requirement, but also to benefit your students and your community. By framing climate surveys as sexual assault prevention, you’ll be able to articulate the value of it, build rapport with students, and focus on improving the campus climate.

Building a climate survey? Watch this short video.


Why Do Victims Minimize Sexual Violence?
Posted by On Tuesday, March 29, 2016

When asked why they didn’t report an incident of sexual assault, a common reason given by survivors is that they didn’t believe it was serious enough to report, or that it wasn’t clear that the assailant meant harm or had committed a crime at all. This outlook contradicts the popular understanding of sexual assault as always being traumatic. Trauma is processed and manifested in complex interactions with the environment in which they occur. Unacknowledged rapes, or experiencing incidents that fit the legal definition of rape but not labeling it as such, are a surprisingly understudied phenomenon considering its prevalence: among a national sample of college women, 73 percent of rape victims did not acknowledge what happened to them as being sexual assault. 

 

We do know some things about the phenomenon. Sexual assaults are more likely to be unacknowledged if they were committed by a current romantic or sexual partner, used less physical force, and resulted in less physical injury to the victim. Additionally, victims who were inebriated during the attack and did not have a clear memory of the incident were less likely to acknowledge the incident as having been sexual assault. Interestingly, 84 percent of victims of unacknowledged rape engage in one or two forms of resistance, such as verbal reasoning, or physical struggling. However, the enactment and violation of the resistance are later re-conceptualized as “miscommunication”.


The data also contains clues about why victims may conceptualize the event as something other than a crime. Those who acknowledged their rapes were more likely to disclose the event to a higher number of people, but also reported receiving more negative feedback from those people compared to victims who did not acknowledge their rapes. Both types of victims experienced similar negative internal states following the attacks, with acknowledged victims experiencing slightly more intense symptoms of PTSD, possibly due to the fact that acknowledged rapes tend to be more violent.

 

Unacknowledged rapes do not remain constant over time—it is likely that low initial acknowledgement rates are related to victims needing time to process the event in order to understand what happened to them. While only 25% of victims who had been raped within a six-month time period acknowledged their rape, 70.5% of rape victims whose rape occurred over three years ago acknowledged what happened to them. Unfortunately, this timeline can make prosecution difficult, as much physical evidence must be collected immediately following the assault.

 

The reasons for unacknowledged rapes are complex. Some studies point to hetero-patriarchal sexual script-building and maintenance during adolescence as important factors. Young girls and women conceptualize male sexual aggression as being a normal part of everyday life and do not consider minor or even major acts of physical aggression as anything other than “just how boys are.” Additionally, girls and women are often taught to police each other’s sexuality as a way to maintain their own moral reputations. That is, they commonly learn that women are meant to be gatekeepers of sex, and that outside perceptions of how hard a woman has “fought off” unwanted sex is tied to her perceived complicity in sexual assault. Therefore, acknowledging a rape opens the victim up to a barrage of scrutiny.

 

Importantly, the study also discusses the low rate of reporting and the minimization of sexual violence as being related to the victim’s perception of the enforcing institution as an extension of the patriarchal apparatus. Enforcing institutions are part of the same culture that gives rise to sexual violence, and are additionally imbued with institutional or legal power. Girls and women may therefore be wary of the forensic interview setting as being hostile to their sexuality, sense of agency, or their decision to use alcohol or drugs. As a result, women may dismiss or play down instances of sexual violence as a way to build rapport and maintain their own credibility in the face of biased reception.

 

Unacknowledged rapes carry with them the threat of future victimization, and that can be costly to both the victim as well as the community. However, denial may also serve an environmentally protective role for the victim when their social context makes it costly to be a victim. It is therefore vitally important for educational institutions to not only ensure that students are aware of reporting policies and practices, but that the social context in which reporting is carried out is one in which victims will feel that they will be supported and believed.


The Dangers of Projecting Expectations onto Victims of Sexual Assault
Posted by On Friday, March 11, 2016

On an episode entitled “Anatomy of Doubt” producers of the NPR radio show This American Life teamed up with The Marshall Project and ProPublica to present a story of what can happen when well-meaning people make erroneous assumptions about how victims of sexual assault ought to behave after an attack. The episode recalls the experience of a young woman named Marie who was brutally raped in her home by an intruder. After the attack, Marie called her former foster parents and the police for help. Even though the police found and collected physical evidence of the assault at the scene, Marie’s detached and “flirtatious” behavior caused even those people closest to her to question her truthfulness. This ignited a cascade of doubt and disbelief that erupted into a second trauma for Marie and nearly landed her in jail.

The neurobiology of trauma involves a number of self-protective mechanisms that can produce disruptions in memory and emotional expression in the victim. The amygdala, or the part of the brain responsible for processing fear, interferes with memory consolidation when it is hyper-activated. This may account for lapses in memory or problems with recall in a victim of sexual violence. The body also produces opioids in response to trauma as a way to minimize pain—these endogenous opioids behave similarly to opiates like heroin, and can flatten affect and have adverse effects on memory consolidation. These effects are particularly prevalent for individuals like Marie who have been exposed to trauma during childhood. While complying with the Campus SaVE Act can help educate students on these matters, it is also vitally important for the general public to be aware of the possibility of such reactions in order to minimize incidents of re-traumatization.

The episode also highlights the way in which faulty interviewing techniques can coerce victims into retracting their statement. The police in charge of Marie’s case lacked experience in handling sexual assault cases and presumed that Marie was lying based solely on an inaccurate understanding of how traumatized people are supposed to behave. Their line of questioning was more befitting a suspect of a crime rather than a rape victim. By threatening Marie with the famously faulty polygraph test, they ensured her recantation. Recantations are usually counted as false reports, and those produced under coercive circumstances may therefore inflate the number of false reports. False rape reports are already disproportionately emphasized in the conversation around sexual assault reporting, and the social and legal consequences for reporters who have been determined to be lying are severe.

“Anatomy of Doubt” provides a compelling argument for believing victims. Victims of sexual violence can appear emotionless, carefree, or even cheerful directly following the attack. They may display flirtatious or sexual behavior toward responders, or giggle and laugh at unexpected times. None of these things alone should be taken as an indication that the victim is lying about having been assaulted.


Selling Safety: The Rise of Sexual Assault Prevention Products
Posted by On Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Since the 1990s, studies have found that roughly 1 in 5 women will experience some form of sexual assault while in college. Recent results from campus climate surveys have bolstered these numbers. In the past several years, people have been trying to fight this epidemic through many strategies ranging from increased legislation to prevention training.

In addition, companies have recently begun offering other novel solutions. Some are manufacturing wearable gadgets that alert authorities and select emergency contacts when an attack is about to occur. A group of college students is developing a nail polish that changes colors when dipped into a drink that’s been laced with certain date-rape drugs. Entrepreneurs are producing an array of fashionable jewelry that emits a loud alarm when the user pushes a button.

Below, you will find a list of some of the sexual assault prevention products on the market and how they work, followed by an analysis, criticisms, and common misconceptions about sexual assault.

iBall Andi Uddaan: This is a cellular device with a built-in “SOS” button that sends an alert message and phone call to five emergency contacts chosen by the user, posts a Facebook status with a pre-written message asking for help and gives the user’s GPS location (only if connected to the Internet), and emits a loud siren sound to ward off potential attackers.

Athena: Manufactured by Roar for Good, this transformable accessory can be worn as necklace pendant or clip onto clothing, a belt, or purse. The Athena is a “coin-sized personal safety alarm” and comes with an app that allows the wearer to customize their preferences. The device has a button that can sound an alarm “louder than a freight train” while sending a text message with the user’s location to a list of emergency contacts chosen by the user. If the button is held for three seconds longer, the alarm stays silent, but messages are still sent as long as an Internet connection is established. A portion of the company’s proceeds goes to educational programs.

Safelet: A bracelet that sends out alerts with the wearer’s location to the police and emergency contacts (known as “Guardians”) selected by the wearer—this happens when two buttons are pressed simultaneously. Once activated, the device will also call the police and activate the wearer’s cellular microphone, transmitting the sounds coming from the microphone to the police. The wearer can add contacts and security preferences through the Safelet app. The Safelet device operates by using a “secure Bluetooth Low Energy connection.”

First Sign: A hair clip with “built-in gyroscope and accelerometer to detect head impacts indicative of physical assault.” When pressed, the clip turns on a microphone that calls the police while recording the incident. The First Sign clip also emits an audible message when pressed in order to “deter the attacker.” If pressed accidentally, the wearer can access the First Sign app on their phone within 15 seconds to deactivate the false alarm. The First Sign clip uses Bluetooth and an Internet connection must be established in order for the device to work.

Cuff: This is a smart device that can be inserted into the manufacturer’s line of jewelry/accessories (such as a sport band, metal necklaces and bracelets, leather bracelets, and key chains). The device uses a phone app that allows the wearer to set their emergency contacts, and when activated, the Cuff sends the user’s emergency contacts a message. The Cuff device can be paired with any of their jewelry line products to change the look. However, the wearer can’t be more than 20-30 feet from their phone for the device to fully work, and their phone must be connected to the Internet.

Undercover Colors: A nail polish line that detects date rape drugs such as Rohypnol, Ketamine, Ecstasy, and other “roofies” by changing colors when a finger is dipped into a drink to “discreetly” stir. This method can alert the wearer of a spiked drink before they consume it.

It might be reassuring to know that more than pepper spray, mace, rape whistles, and tasers can be used to protect victims before, during, and after an assault. However, the very idea that such a number of up-and-coming devices are necessary is concerning in itself. While the thought of having an aid in sexual assault prevention is undoubtedly a good one, the need for these items is telling of how much of an issue sexual assault has become.

Though prevention gadgets are steps in a good direction, they are not solutions to stopping the act that calls for their existence. And for all the good these products attempt to achieve, they come with a fair amount of criticism:

  • Products such as the aforementioned and others put the burden of rape prevention on the potential victim, not the perpetrators. It is the victims who are going out of their way to obtain and use these products—and while it is a safe, smart thing to ensure one’s safety, perhaps education, accountability, prosecution, and practicing consensual sexual activity should take the forefront.
  • These products may reinforce myths about what sexual assault looks like—for example, a woman who was drugged by a stranger in a bar or was attacked while walking alone at night. While these kind of attacks do happen, research suggests that the vast majority of sexual assaults at college are acquaintance assaults (this is also true for assaults that occur outside of college).
  • Marketing these products to women leaves out male victims. According to a Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation survey that polled college students living on or near campus, “twenty percent of women and 5 percent of men reported being sexually assaulted either by physical force or while incapacitated.” This survey and many others reveal that both men and women experience sexual assault.
  • These products are intended to be used before, during, or after a sexual assault has occurred—they do not guarantee that the act will be stopped, that the victim will be safe, or that the attacker will be caught.
  • While date-rape drugs such as roofies are sometimes used to facilitate sexual assault, most often, alcohol is the number one date rape drug.
  • Many of these devices also present some practical challenges: they assume the user already has a smartphone, and many of the devices require that a free mobile app be downloaded and connected to the product itself; for the fashion fashion/jewelry pieces, an accessory cover would be needed to better conceal the product; an Internet connection must also be established in order for the devices to correctly work.

Critics’ assertions that these devices misrepresent the nature of sexual assault and unfairly shift the burden to victims show that these devices cannot solve the problem without educational initiatives providing students the proper context.

Fortunately, many colleges, universities, and now high schools in select states require students to take sexual assault prevention programs or classes. With the well of information, definitions, statistics, and scenarios in these courses, the goal is to educate students about consent and sexual assault, leading to better decision-making and ultimately a safer environment.

These products can save lives, but they need to paired with the proper education and training. The goal is to prevent sexual assault, not just avoid it.


Legal Developments: Addressing Campus Sexual Assault in 2016
Posted by On Friday, January 22, 2016

The level of legislative activity to address campus sexual assault in 2015 reflects the national concern surrounding this problem. And the intense focus on Title IX compliance and prevention programs now includes K-12 schools. These signs indicate that the law will continue to evolve with new strategies to address campus sexual violence in 2016.

This post contains a rundown of significant legal developments in 2015 and what to watch for in 2016 that may have direct and indirect implications for preventing and handling cases involving sexual and interpersonal violence committed against students. For a more detailed discussion of recent state laws, download our white paper.

OCR Investigations

At the end of 2015, 159 colleges and universities and 63 K-12 schools were under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. The Chronicle of Higher Education’s Title IX investigation tracker lists 243 investigations opened since the OCR’s 2011 Dear Colleague Letter. And the OCR’s 2016 budget was increased by $7 million for additional enforcement staff.

With a growing list of K-12 investigations, colleges and universities are not the only targets of Title IX complaints and OCR investigations. For example, Know Your IX, a non-profit organization founded by student survivor activists, provides a self-described “one-stop-shop, information-rich website” that has added a Title IX toolkit for high school students.

There is no question that the number of OCR investigations has grown since the OCR issued its 2011 Dear Colleague Letter, which Catherine Lhamon, Assistant Secretary of the OCR, told a Senate Committee is “an explanation of what Title IX means.”

Challenging the OCR’s investigatory authority, Senator James Lankford (R-Oklahoma), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Regulatory Affairs and Federal Management, last week sent a sharply worded letter to Acting Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education, John B. King, Jr. In his letter, Senator Lankford argues that the OCR guidance letters were not created through the notice-and-comment procedures required by the Administrative Procedure Act.

Therefore, Lankford requests “specific statutory and/or regulatory language that, in your view, the [2010 and 2011 Dear Colleague] letters interpret or construe . . . no later than February 4, 2016.” To the extent that they create compliance obligations beyond existing statutory or regulatory language, Lankford demands that “failure to adhere to the policies will not be grounds for inquiry, investigation, adverse finding, or rescission of federal funding.”

High School Prevention Programs

New federal and state laws acknowledge that prevention and awareness programs must start before students arrive on college and university campuses. On December 10, 2015, President Obama signed into law the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA, S. 1177), which will start to take effect during this next school year. The ESSA allows public K-12 schools to use Title IV grant funds for training on safe relationship behavior, including affirmative consent and sexual assault prevention.

In addition, as of January 1, 2016, California public high schools must cover sexual and interpersonal violence and harassment awareness and prevention in their health education curricula.

In Michigan, both the House and the Senate have passed identical bills requiring public high schools to teach students affirmative consent standards. The bills have not yet been signed by the governor.

New Laws, Pending Bills, and ALI Guidelines

For higher education institutions, at least 29 state legislatures considered campus sexual assault legislation in 2015 (new state laws are discussed in our white paper), and the 114th Congress will continue its debate of four pending federal bills in 2016: the Campus Accountability and Safety Act (CASA), the Hold Accountable and Lend Transparency Campus Sexual Violence Act (HALT), the Safe Campus Act, and the Fair Campus Act. Each of these bills addresses how colleges and universities handle reports of sexual violence, and the co-sponsors of the CASA bill (turned into the “Senators of Steel” by Marvel) predict that its provisions will be included in the Higher Education Reauthorization Act when it comes up for a vote in 2016.

Recognizing this emerging maze of legislative solutions, the American Law Institute has assembled a team to help address the unique problems facing the higher education community in disciplinary proceedings. ALI describes its mission as “producing scholarly work to clarify, modernize, and otherwise improve the law.”

Members of the ALI team say they bring “a sense of expertise, professionalism, and balance to that kind of debate” and “can help take the politics out of a politicized issue.” The team includes college leaders, victim advocates, and legal experts, including an OCR lawyer. This project will create guidelines and best practices for addressing campus sexual assault to create a process that responds fairly and effectively to complaints. Suzanne Goldberg, a clinical professor of law and executive vice president for university life at Columbia University, and a primary author of the preliminary guidelines, says the ALI team is proceeding with “a sense of urgency.”

Meanwhile, state legislators grew impatient waiting for federal legislation, taking matters into their own hands. The recent NASPA report analyzed recent state action and identified four primary legislative policy themes:

  • defining affirmative consent
  • the role of local law enforcement
  • transcript notation
  • the role of legal counsel

For a list of important state legislative action in 2015 that will shape how campus sexual assault cases are handled in 2016 and beyond, download our white paper on new state laws and pending bills.