Blog

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.


A Response from CampusClarity to the Campus Reform Article
Posted by On Tuesday, January 12, 2016

In response to the numerous questions CampusClarity received today regarding an article published in Campus Reform, we’ve published a detailed Q&A document that addresses the questions, comments, and concerns.

CampusClarity, a division of LawRoom, provides training to over 500 colleges and universities across the country. Think About It is our online training course based on extensive research and expert participation that educates students about sexual violence and substance abuse prevention. Presently, the course has been taken by over 1 million undergraduate and graduate students. Think About It helps schools meet their compliance requirements under Title IX and the Campus Save Act.

As part of Think About It, schools have the option of including surveys that ask students about their behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs regarding sex and substance use. Schools can use data from these questions to tailor campus programming to the unique needs of their student body.

While the course may be mandatory in some schools, the questions are not. Every question includes a “no comment” answer option that students can select if they do not wish to respond to the question. Individual students are not connected to their answers — the data are de-identified.

The following addresses many of the questions we received in response to the January 12th article.

Are USC students required to detail sexual history before registering for classes?

No. USC, like many other campuses, chose to require students to complete Think About It in order to register for classes, but students were not required to answer the survey questions, including those related to sexual history.

Schools have the option of including short surveys that are interspersed throughout the course. In these surveys, students are asked about their behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs regarding sexual activity and substance use. But students can choose not to answer these questions.

Are the questions mandatory?

No. Every question has a “no comment” option if students do not wish to answer.

Why are the questions asked?

By showing students’ attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors around intimacy and substance use, the data from these questions allow schools to better tailor their prevention programming to the unique needs of their student population.

Are students’ identities connected to their answers?

No. Answer data is de-identified and aggregated. No one can see how an individual student responded to the survey questions. School administrators can only see how students have answered in the aggregate. We take privacy very seriously.

You can read more about the personal questions and privacy in our white paper on the topic: http://www.lawroom.com/Brochure/TAI_questions.pdf

Is the training mandatory?

The Campus Save Act mandates that schools offer training to their students on sexual violence prevention. Additionally, in its Title IX FAQ, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights recommends schools offer “age-appropriate training to its students regarding Title IX and sexual violence” (J-4). We provide different versions of the course for graduate students, adult learners, and undergraduates.

In short, schools must offer the training but do not have to mandate the training. Many schools, however, do require students to complete it because of the importance of these issues to the health and well-being of their students.

Why do schools offer the training?

Schools offer training in order to help empower students to make safe and healthy choices around intimacy and substance use. The training also helps schools comply with Federal regulations, specifically Title IX and the Campus Save Act.

How is consent defined in the course?

State-specific legal definitions of consent to sexual activity and criminal sexual assault are included in the courses, so a student can read summaries of the relevant state laws, as well as the statutes themselves on a range of laws related to sexual violence.

In California, for instance, the page on consent includes both the criminal law definition and the affirmative consent standard most California colleges and universities are required by law to use in campus disciplinary proceedings involving sexual assault.

Including both of these definitions in the training helps students understand the difference between the affirmative consent standard in campus policies and criminal law definitions of consent to sexual activity that apply in a court of law. The training programs present both definitions to explain these different standards and put them in the proper context.

Providing legal definitions also helps schools comply with the Campus Save Act, which requires schools to inform their students of the definitions of stalking, dating violence, domestic violence, and sexual assault in the applicable jurisdiction. We maintain summaries of the relevant state statutes defining these terms for all 50 states and the District of Columbia, and the applicable statutes are included in each school’s courses.

Schools also include their campus sexual misconduct policies in the course, which students must read and acknowledge before completing the course.

In addition, the course provides general guidelines to help students get and give consent. You can watch a video on consent from Think About It on Youtube here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=laMtr-rUEmY

What if the discussion of consent is inconsistent with the schools’ policy?

Schools can customize the content of the course in order to fit their policy and campus culture.

All schools include their policy in the course, which students must read and acknowledge.

Does the course talk about how alcohol affects someone’s ability to give consent?

Yes it does.

This topic is important to discuss as is suggested both by research and guidance on Federal regulations.

For example, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights recommends in the Title IX FAQ  that training for students include information “on consent and the role drugs or alcohol can play in the ability to consent” (J-3).

Similarly, one of the primary conclusions of the Campus Sexual Assault Study completed in 2007 for the National Institute of Justice was to “[c]ombine sexual assault prevention education with alcohol and drug education programming” (xviii).

As indicated in the video linked to above, an individual who is incapacitated cannot give consent. This reflects most schools’ policies, many states’ laws, and the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights definition of sexual violence in their Title IX FAQ: ” Sexual violence, as that term is used in this document and prior OCR guidance, refers to physical sexual acts perpetrated against a person’s will or where a person is incapable of giving consent (e.g., due to the student’s age or use of drugs or alcohol, or because an intellectual or other disability prevents the student from having the capacity to give consent)” (emphasis added A-1).

(For more information see our blog post on the topic here.)

Does the course say if a man and woman are both drunk and have sex then the man is always to blame?

No it does not. And it is disturbing that someone could draw this conclusion from the course.

In the article, a student who took the course said the following: “In one scenario both the man and the woman were drunk but the video still blames the male for the assault. I found that a little confusing,”

It is deeply concerning that the student found this portion of the course confusing.

Here is a summary of the scenario the student is most likely referencing.

A man and a woman have been drinking together. Later they start kissing. The woman decides to stop and pushes the man away. She tells the man that she wants to go home because she is feeling sick from the alcohol she drank. The man convinces her to stay, she passes out, and the man then has sex with her while she is unconscious. This is rape. The woman is incapacitated from alcohol and is unconscious when the man has sex with her.

The reason the man is to blame is because he rapes her while she is unconscious. It does not matter that he has also been drinking. As mentioned in the course “being drunk doesn’t release anyone from legal or student conduct responsibility.”

Conclusion

We believe preventing sexual violence is an important and complex issue, and welcome feedback and suggestions.

To learn about the program used at USC and over 500 colleges and universities across the country click here and here.

If you have any questions please contact us at talkaboutit@campusclarity.com

If you are a member of the press, please contact us at press@lawroom.com

 


3 Predictions for Data Security and Higher Ed in 2016
Posted by On Tuesday, January 5, 2016

In tomorrow’s college classroom, data security training will sit front and center.

Technology is reinventing education, and schools are producing unprecedented amounts of data to teach and manage their students, staff, and faculty. Technology is already helping schools control costs, improve student retention, and personalize learning.

We can expect these trends to continue, especially as flipped classrooms and blended and online learning continue their rapid spread. Over 70% of academic leaders reported that online learning is critical to their institution’s long-term strategy, according to the Babson Survey Research Group. And though the hype around MOOCs (massive open online courses) has faded, they’re more popular than ever.

Further developments are on the horizon, including learning analytics, adaptive learning, and location intelligence.

These technologies are reshaping the learning and teaching process. But they also make colleges and universities attractive targets for hackers and make data breaches a bigger danger than ever.

Colleges and universities are in an unusual position when it comes to data security. Not only are they regulated by laws like FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act), but they must also find a way to balance their commitment to academic freedom with the need to protect their data.

As David J. Shaw, the chief information security officer at Purdue University, told The New York Times, “A university environment is very different from a corporation or a government agency, because of the kind of openness and free flow of information you’re trying to promote.”

(Learn about higher education’s unique data security challenges in our data security white paper.)

Higher education leaders are certainly aware of the data security challenges they face. The Center for Digital Education recently surveyed higher education leaders about data security:

  • 72% think data breaches are one of their greatest concerns
  • 73% say cybersecurity is a high or very high priority among their other technology priorities
  • 70% expect spam and phishing to be a major threat in the next 12 months

Thinking about the growing role of technology (and data) in the classroom, here are three data security issues in higher education we expect to trend in 2016.

1.) More Data Will Mean More Problems

With new technologies come new concerns — especially around privacy and data security. Many emerging technologies rely on big data — so much data that Kathleen Styles, the Education Department’s chief privacy officer, recently called colleges and universities, “Data Factories.”

As Styles explains in a blog post on privacy and new uses of data, “The combination of new technologies and new uses of data create today’s cutting-edge privacy issues, including ‘Big Data,’ matching with wage data, data sharing in general, the use of analytics, cloud computing, MOOCs, and school use of web engagement tools.”

Higher education institutions create and consume a particularly broad range of information from educational, employment, and medical records to intellectual property, research data, and sensitive financial information.

Besides the privacy issues, all these data make colleges and universities attractive targets to hackers, hacktivists, and even state-sponsored cyberespionage.

The Ponemon Institute, which conducts independent research on data security, estimates that cybercrime costs the education industry an average of $3.89 million annually. Between 2010 and 2015, a total of 314 data breaches occurred at US educational institutions, exposing 7,852,750 records. In 2014 the education industry experienced 10% of total data breaches in the US, according to Symantec.

Privacy concerns around data collection forced one educational technology company to shut its doors in 2014, and in 2015 we saw a major university allegedly targeted by nation-state hackers for its research. We can expect more stories like these in 2016.

2.) BYOD Will Become Bring Your Own Everything

To promote the free flow of information, college and university networks often must accommodate numerous private devices — think of all the new students arriving each year with their smart phones, laptops, tablets, etc.

A survey conducted by Bradford Networks found that 85% of educational institutions have some form of BYOD policy (bring your own device). And these aren’t just for personal use: 52% of respondents said devices are integrated into the classroom experience.

Over 75% of surveyed institutions allowed faculty to use personal devices to access the school network, 72% allowed students, and 57.5% allowed all other staff and contractors to do the same.

The use of personal devices is so ubiquitous on campuses that one expert has suggested a new acronym: BYOE or Bring Your Own Everything.

And it looks like the current flood of devices is only priming the pump.

In its 2015 Horizon Report, The New Media Consortium (NMC), in collaboration with EDUCASE Learning Initiative, predicts schools will encourage more students to bring their own mobile devices into the classroom.

That’s just the near term! NMC expects wearable technologies to be classroom staples within the next two to three years and the internet of things to arrive in classrooms in the next four to five years.

Each device presents a potential security risk to an institution, a way for data to leak out or an avenue for malware to sneak in. Unsurprisingly, colleges and universities’ security performance drops during the academic school year with the influx of new students and their new devices.

It will be interesting to see how schools balance their desire to promote learning and the exchange of information with the need to secure their networks. One thing is certain: BYOE will be a challenge in 2016.

3.) IT Will Be Treated as a Behavioral Science

Most higher education leaders are confident in their security measures. What they report as their number one pain point is user adherence to policies.

In other words, users — not the technology — are the issue.

This situation isn’t unique to higher education. As we are fond of quoting, according to Marc Van Zadelhoff, the VP of IBM Security, 95% of data breaches or cyberattacks involve “mistakes by those with access to a company’s systems.”

But higher education’s unique balancing act of access and security can make technological solutions to data security particularly difficult to implement, forcing institutions to rely even more heavily on the good sense and cyber-hygiene habits of their employees and students.

Fortunately, schools can address employee habits and practices through training. These kinds of solutions may actually be well adapted to the higher education environment, since they can promote users’ sense of responsibility and autonomy. Online data security training, for instance, can help schools teach employees best practices while still respecting the free flow of information.

The human element in data security gained some prominence this year when Cisco released a new security manifesto. One of the manifesto’s core principles is that “security must be viewed as a ‘people problem’.”

The manifesto explains, “A technology-centric approach to security does not improve security; in fact, it exacerbates it. Technologies are merely tools that can enhance the ability of people to secure their environment. Security teams need to educate users…People, processes, and technology, together, must for the defense against today’s threats.” (See our post on CTOs and data security training for more.)

Or as Werner Boeing, the CIO of Roche Diagnostics, puts it, “People believe that IT is about technology, but it’s really a behavioral science — understanding the behaviors of your company’s staff, leaders, and customers — and facilitating the adoption of a new vision.”

In 2016, expect to see more discussion of data security as a people problem and the role of cybersecurity training as an essential complement to technological solutions.

Liked this? Read this:

 


Alcohol Abuse or Alcohol & Abuse: The Complicated Relationship Between Alcohol and Sexual Assault on College Campuses
Posted by On Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Recent surveys and studies have shone light on the sexual assault epidemic on college campuses. They have reinforced the high number of college students who will experience sexual assault as well as the campus culture that often perpetuates an unsafe and unsupportive environment for potential victims and survivors. On December first, Dr. Thomas Plante published an article on Huffington Post titled, Sexual Assaults on College Campuses: Focus on Alcohol. This is just one of many pieces that argues that to combat sexual assault, colleges must combat alcohol use and abuse by their students. It is true that alcohol use is a very real problem on campuses. As Dr. Plante points out, around 20% of college students admit to binge drinking. Many students die from alcohol poisoning or alcohol related events every year, and “too many college students feel compelled to drink in excess while in college.”

As Sarah Hepola, author and former Salon editor, says, “College presidents have long considered alcohol to be one of the biggest problems they face on campus—the cause of traffic accidents, injuries, even death, not to mention a sampler plate of jackassery.” Hepola goes on to say, “Alcohol is also involved in a great number of campus sexual assault cases…However, alcohol is also a primary reason people dismissed the gravity of campus sexual assault for so long. “A bunch of drunk kids getting their kicks” was the carpet under which a great deal of real human pain was swept.”

While Dr. Plante’s claims that alcohol abuse is an issue on college campuses that needs to be addressed is extremely valid, and has validity in that it often has a strong association with sexual assaults, it should not be at the core of sexual assault prevention efforts. Cultural norms and beliefs stemming from sexism create an environment that perpetuates sexual assault. Focusing exclusively on alcohol can distort the message that perpetrators are responsible for their actions and inadvertently perpetuate misperceptions about the nature of sexual violence. Suggesting that alcohol is at the core of the sexual assault epidemic risks excusing the actions of someone under the influence of alcohol as simply bad behavior. It ignores the idea that a drunk perpetrator is still a perpetrator and a non-consenting drunk person is still non-consenting. Addressing the underlying rape culture is the only way to truly combat sexual assault.

One of the many problems associated with drinking is that it lowers people’s inhibitions. Many say that people are more likely to say and act like “their real selves” when under the influence of alcohol. A sober person can remind themselves that sexual assault is illegal and causes harm, but there is still something happening in their minds that allows sexual assault to even be an option. Drinking may bring these feelings to the surface and allow them to culminate in a way that they would not in a sober mind, but a broader rape culture is at fault for them existing in the first place.

Dr. Antonia Abbey’s research titled Alcohol-Related Sexual Assault: A Common Problem among College Students stresses the point by saying, “The fact that alcohol consumption and sexual assault frequently co-occur does not demonstrate that alcohol causes sexual assault.” Abbey goes further to say that, “The causal direction could be the opposite; men may consciously or unconsciously drink alcohol prior to committing sexual assault to have an excuse for their behavior.” While alcohol is often a factor in campus sexual assault, there is no research showing that there is a causational relationship between the two. Abbey continues to demonstrate this by pointing out that there may be personality traits that exist in individuals who both drink heavily and commit sexual assault, such as, “impulsivity, or peer group norms.”

Alcohol is certainly a part of that environment, but it does not have a causational relationship. Focusing on alcohol is like putting a bandage on a wound. It can have an impact on the aftercare of a gash, but it has nothing to do with the gash being created in the first place. Figuring out how to eliminate the things that cause the wound is not an easy feat. However, this must be the focus of sexual assault prevention. Everything else is just a bandage – a reaction to harm, which is helpful, but not a solution on its own.


Critically Acclaimed & Critically Accused: How the response to The Hunting Ground perpetuates rape culture
Posted by On Tuesday, November 24, 2015

This weekend, The Hunting Ground premiered on CNN.  This is the first time that the film has been broadcasted for a large public audience. The Hunting Ground is a documentary that shares the stories of sexual assault survivors from universities across the country. It not only focuses on the incidents themselves, but the aftermath of the assaults in which their institutions did little to nothing to remediate the situation, and oftentimes retraumatized the survivor by insinuating blame or not believing the survivor’s story.

The Hunting Ground connects the dots to show that campus rape is an epidemic, and that focusing on one individual story, or even one individual institution, isn’t doing justice to the issue. It also frankly discusses the corporatization of higher education and doesn’t shy away from the industrial components that interplay with campus sexual assault.

The film portrays much of what we know to be true about campus sexual assault. Many of the survivors who are featured discuss that the person who assaulted them was someone they knew. Many of the survivors also disclosed that they were hesitant to report through their campus and that they have yet to tell their families. Many survivors shared that the incident involved either members of athletics or Greek life. And sadly, nearly every survivor shared that their school’s response was lacking, harmful, and insufficient.

Unfortunately, the film also shows us something else that we know to be true: people are unwilling to believe survivors. Despite having a Rotten Tomatoes score of 92%, the media response to the film has been highly critical, with journals and newspapers staunchly attempting to disprove the stories of survivors, and by calling the film “inaccurate and incomplete,” “poorly substantiated,” and as “spreading myths.”

As found in the Association of American Universities climate survey results, less than a quarter of incidents are reported. The most common reason for not reporting sexual assault was that it was “not considered serious enough,” with high numbers also in feeling “embarrassed or ashamed” and “did not think anything would be done.”

When much of the public discourse around a film about campus sexual assault is disbelief and contention, what is to encourage survivors to report their assault? The Hunting Ground attempts – and succeeds – in showing the epidemic of campus rape, but ironically it is the response to it that succeeds in showing a broader rape culture that permeates beyond college campuses to our entire society.

Instead of discussing the broader implications of the vast amount of evidence and personal stories that The Hunting Ground presents, critics have narrowly focused on trying to disprove two of the most high-profile incidents presented. The acute simplification of focusing on these two cases, one involving a prominent college football quarterback and one involving an elite law school, does a few things. First, it misses the point of the film. By focusing on a couple cases, the representation of campus sexual assault as an epidemic is overlooked. By attempting to prove that the stories presented are inaccurate or incomplete, critics are perpetuating the societal problem of the overestimation of false rape reports. For those who are interested, the actual percentage of false reporting of rape tends to fall between 2 and 8%, which aligns with the rate of false accusations for other felonies.

Second, the narrow focus on challenging the two most high-profile cases replicates some of the main institutional problems that the film details. Even though there seems to be strong public support for the film itself – as displayed by the acclaim from Sundance, Entertainment Weekly, Metacritic, and Rotten Tomatoes – media and public discourse have tried to coopt the story by focusing on a sliver of what is truly an epidemic. Perhaps it is no coincidence that the majority of attention has been focused on these two cases; the two where the American society has the most to lose. There seems to be a willful ignorance that is reinforcing the sense that when the accused institution or individual is high-profile, with high societal regard and yielding high profits, the public is predisposed to doubt the survivor. Not only is the survivor unlikely to be believed, but there is a heavy investment in advocating for the innocence of the accused, even going as far as to blaming and shaming the accuser. When the fault in a sexual assault case lands upon a person or institution that is highly funded, positively regarded, a national symbol of success, etc., there is little chance that the survivor will come out on top.

But maybe there is hope. Is any attention good attention when it comes to these issues? The survivors who present their stories in The Hunting Ground have decided to put the cause before themselves. They have become activists and have sacrificed their personal well-being to do so. The individuals seen in the film have received threats, are constantly being questioned and challenged, and in many cases are being portrayed in negative light. However, they have also forced the issue of campus rape into the national headlines. They have put the rape epidemic on the map and are forcing the media and public to take note. As campus administrators, invested community members, and social justice educators, we owe something to these, and all, survivors. An easy way to remember how to support survivors is through the acronym HEAL: Honor, Empower, Accept, and Listen. The following screen shots from Think About It are a good baseline for how to respond when someone discloses sexual assault. If you hear people challenging the stories of the survivors in The Hunting Ground, remind them of these suggestions.

article_ifSomeoneIKnowRaped_genderNeutral1article_ifSomeoneIKnowRaped_genderNeutral2


Campus Climate Surveys: A tool for creating anti-racist policies and procedures
Posted by On Thursday, November 12, 2015

This past month has been ripe with conversation around race and racism on campus. Articles in the Chronicle, Huffington Post, Washington Post, and many others have detailed racism at colleges and universities. Student Activism has put racial microaggressions, incidents of blatant racism, and institutionalized racism into the media and in many cases has already led to action by administration.

Two years ago, the Black Student Union at the University of Michigan started the #BBUM, or Being Black at U of M, campaign to bring awareness to the experiences of students of color on campus. This campaign received national attention and coincided with a list of demands to administration for improving the campus climate for students of color, and specifically Black and African American students, on campus.

Similar events have taken place at the University of Missouri (Mizzou) and Yale over the past few weeks and student solidarity seems to be spreading to campuses around the country. While the situations at Mizzou and Yale have played out differently, the student activists are responding to similar frustrations with ongoing racism that has been left unaddressed by the school. Students are getting fed up with their institutions claiming “diversity” and “inclusivity” when their lived experiences tell them otherwise. Students are getting fed up with leaders not taking racism on campus seriously. And students are getting fed up with acts of blatant racism receiving no repercussion.

What does campus racism have to do with the campus climate around sexual assault? A lot. Campus climate is holistic in that it defines how students experience their time at a school. However, it has many different facets. Lately, we have been focusing on campus climate and how it relates to sexual assault (including sexual violence, sexual misconduct, sexual harassment, and dating/relationship violence). The racial climate on campuses definitely plays into how students perceive the climate around sexual assault.

If a student does not feel included, safe, or welcomed on campus, if a student does not feel supported by administrators, if a student does not feel a sense of community, if a student does not see faces who look like them in positions that matter, if a student is struggling every day just to survive in a space that is stacked against them, what is to make them want to report? Or even if they want to, what is to make them feel safe reporting?

Similarly, if the perpetrator of an assault was a student of color, reporting can be an especially complicated decision. If reporting means giving another reason for people of color to look like criminals or perpetrators of violence, survivors might be hesitant to report due to the potential harm to their community – perhaps the only community they feel a part of on campus.

So what does all of this mean? Sexual assault education, response, and policies are not one-size-fits-all. A survivor-centered approach needs to take into consideration the unique experiences of each survivor, including how their culture, community, and identities intersect with that experience. The Department of Justice suggests that a “culturally relevant, survivor centered approach” needs to have the following components:

  • Is grounded in the experiences of all survivors on campus. This requires the campus to understand not only the dynamics of the crimes, but the nuances that each crime presents and how these crimes are experienced by diverse groups of survivors on campus.
  • Takes into account cultural contexts in order to better understand the survivor’s experience and how this may affect such actions like a survivor’s decision not to report or seek services.
  • Is flexible and adaptable to the needs of survivors so they are not re-traumatized by the campus’s efforts.
  • Prevents the creation of processes, protocols and systems that support institutional interests over survivor’s needs.

We’ve previously written how race and ethnicity are depicted in Think About It, but this is just the beginning of thinking about how sexual assault prevention and response work can be anti-racist. Last year at NASPA, a session titled “Considering Students of Color in Sexual Assault Prevention” by Luoluo Hong, Mark Houlemard, Ross Wantland, and Patricia Nguyen discussed using a social justice framework when thinking about sexual assault on college campuses. To do this, it is imperative that administrators recognize that racism and sexism are “interlocking systems of oppression” and doing anti-sexism work also means doing anti-racism work. One of my main takeaways from this session was when Hong suggested replacing the word “students” in your sexual assault policies with “students of color.” And then ask yourself: Does the policy still apply? Is it realistic and comprehensive? Are students of color actually considered in the voices of victims and perpetrators? Most importantly, how is your sexual assault prevention work anti-racist?

How does this relate to Climate Surveys? As we previously wrote, Sexual Assault Campus Climate Surveys are being considered a “best practice response to campus sexual assault.” One of the most beneficial usages for climate survey data is being able to sort and filter it based on demographics like class standing, gender, sexual orientation, and race. When you administer your campus climate survey, pay special attention to the perceptions and experiences of students of color. Compare the experiences of white students and students of color for questions about reporting sexual assaults, perceptions of campus safety, and bystander behaviors. Reporting numbers have been low across campuses (2-5%) when participants were asked if they reported the assault through official school systems. This data needs to be cross-tabulated with different demographics to isolate data about how race impacts perceptions and experiences with sexual assault. Climate surveys are a great tool to gauge racial disparities on your campus and can lead to creating policies and procedures that are anti-racist.


Accessible e-Learning: Developing WCAG2.0 Compliant Courses
Posted by On Thursday, October 29, 2015

Education about sexual violence, alcohol and other drugs, and healthy relationships is an important part of creating safe and healthy college campuses. Some schools have chosen to develop in-person training for this education, whereas others have chosen to use e-courses like CampusClarity’s Think About It. No matter what the method of delivery, it is important that all students, regardless of ability, have access to this vital information.

Accessibility for prevention programs is not specifically addressed by VAWA or the Campus SaVE Act. However, the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights enforces accessibility compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act for public and private colleges and universities.

Accessibility standards are evolving to keep pace with emerging technologies. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0, developed through the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), are currently the favored standard. All of CampusClarity’s online student trainings meet WCAG 2.0 Level AA specifications.

What does this mean?

The main principles of WCAG 2.0 are Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, and Robust. There are specific guidelines that exist within each of these principles to ensure that accessibility is more than just about the text on screen but also about the experience of the user.

There are three levels of conformance. Level AA is the intermediate level of specifications, which deals with the biggest and most common barriers for disabled users. Level AA is the standard the government is using as a benchmark for accessibility.

What does CampusClarity actually do to ensure accessibility?

Here are some examples of ways that we are maintaining our Level AA compliance with the WCAG 2.0;

  • Always provide text alternatives for non-text content (1.1.1)
  • Provide captions for videos and animations (1.2.2, 1.2.4)
  • Present content in a logical order to enable index ordered tabbing through the course (1.3.1)
  • Maintain contrast ratio minimums to ensure sufficient contrast (1.4.3)
  • Provide a “skip to content” links throughout the courses (2.4.1)
  • Offers different ways to navigate between pages (2.4.5)
  • Always provide clear headers for tabular data,  and descriptive labels for all content (2.4.6)

Our courses are all built using an in-house tool that enforces compliance of accessibility standards as part of course design.  For CampusClarity, accessibility is not an afterthought but is core to our whole system of course development. Accessibility is an ongoing concern and implementation of best standards and practices is a continuing process. If there is ever a concern with accessibility in one of our courses, we would love to hear from you!


Campus SaVE Compliance: Continuing, On-Going Education & Prevention
Posted by On Tuesday, October 20, 2015

You administered Think About It on your campus… now what?  The Campus SaVE Act requires schools provide “primary prevention and awareness programs” for new students and employees, as well as ongoing education, which refers to campaigns that are sustained over time, occur at different levels, utilize a wide range of strategies, have appropriate content for the audience, and provide ways for individuals to get involved.

Think About It, our flagship course, and its follow-ups, Part II and Part III, and the future release of Think About It: Continuing Students provide schools with options for ongoing education. However, there are many complimentary things that you can be doing on your campus throughout the school year! They fall into three categories of prevention and education. The different categories of prevention originated out of the health field with a focus on disease and illness. The goal of preventative actions is to stop further progression of the condition. In this case, the condition is sexual violence and the goal is for prevention efforts to stop 100% of sexual violence incidents before they occur. Unfortunately, this is not the reality of the work, and so there are other forms of programming, resourcing, and education that can supplement prevention. For our purposes, we have added a fourth and fifth category to the type of work happening on campus to remediate the impacts of sexual violence. We categorize these as Risk Reduction and Awareness Education.

Primary Prevention: Efforts that address sexual violence before it happens

Secondary Prevention: Efforts that deal with immediate effects of sexual violence

Tertiary Prevention: Efforts that manage long-term effects of sexual violence

Risk Reduction: Efforts that give potential victims tools that could minimize risk of sexual violence

  • Personal safety apps (Livesafe, Companion)
  • Responsible partying tips
  • Bystander Intervention
  • Self-defense classes

Awareness Education: Efforts that build awareness of the sexual violence among the target population (These can often fall into the categories of secondary or tertiary prevention, but it is important to remember that on its own, awareness is not preventative)

Your on-campus and online efforts to eliminate the incidences and impacts of sexual violence have the ability to make culture change far beyond that of just your campus. College age men and women are at the highest risk for sexual assault, but that doesn’t mean the problems stop when they leave campus. The education and programming they receive during their years in college will impact them long after they leave, creating a healthier and safer world for us all to live in. CampusClarity is intentional about including components of each type of prevention and education in Think About It to best arm campuses with the tools needed to make lasting change.

  • Primary Prevention: Think About It uses social norming by asking students “insights” questions that gauge their perspective and then tell them how their peers responded. Often students think that their beliefs make them outliers, when really most of their peers have the same concern as well as the same belief.
  • Secondary Prevention: Throughout Think About It, there are links to hotlines like RAINN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network) and allow for administrators to include on-campus and off-campus resources for students to counseling centers, hospitals, or other crisis interventions.
  • Tertiary Prevention: Think About It can be used as a tool to educate peers about how to best assist those who are struggling with abusive relationships, have experienced sexual assault, or overuse alcohol/drugs.
  • Risk Reduction: In Think About It, there is a focus on bystander intervention to encourage friends and peers to intervene in situations of risk. We also provide tips on partying safer. By acknowledging that students will still engage in these activities, we give them the resources needed to do it in the least risky way.
  • Awareness Education: When campuses use Think About It, they also gain access to Talk About It, our online resources that include posters and white papers about topics like sexual assault, dating violence, and alcohol use. We also link to reporting policies so that students gain the knowledge needed to report sexual violence or misconduct.

While CampusClarity provides as many resources as possible, we are definitely not able to do this alone. It is important that campuses also enlist the help of our partners in this fight to end sexual/dating violence. Check out the links above for some options.

Is there programming on your campus that you’re especially proud of? We’d love to hear your success stories at our Annual Summit this March. Please email talkaboutit@campusclarity.com for more information.


When Civil Liberties Collide With Civil Rights
Posted by On Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The First Amendment protects the free exchange of ideas in public schools at every level of education, and Title IX protects a student’s right to learn in a hostile-free environment at all federally-funded schools. When Title IX collides with the First Amendment, it requires schools “to mediate the tension created by the collision of rights.”

One former college administrator framed the issue this way: “Academic freedom is about education. When hostile behavior gets in the way of the educational process, academic freedom must give way to equal opportunity.”

In this post, we’ll explore the difficult balancing act required to protect these two fundamental values in an educational environment. School policies play an important role in these cases. As we’ll see, legally sound sexual harassment policies are critical to mediating this tension and avoiding lawsuits.

OCR and SCOTUS on Title IX and Free Speech

When Title IX complaints involve First Amendment issues they enter the realm of academic freedom, which the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) has deemed a matter of national interest. In two landmark decisions, the SCOTUS ruled that state laws violated the First Amendment because they prohibited teaching any subject except in English [Meyer v. State of Nebraska (1923) 262 U.S. 390], and required professors of public universities to sign a certificate that they were not Communists [Keyishian v. Board of Regents (1967) 385 U.S. 589].

In Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School Dist. (1969) 393 U.S. 503, 511), the SCOTUS famously said that students in the public schools do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate” (Tinker at 506). Since no substantial disruption of school activities was reasonably expected or actually occurred, adopting a school policy to prohibit students from wearing symbolic black armbands to protest the Vietnam War violated the students’ First Amendment rights.

However, the SCOTUS also concluded that high school educators did not violate students’ First Amendment rights when they refused to publish the students’ articles in the school newspaper—one describing students’ experiences with pregnancy and another discussing the impact that parents getting divorced has on students—based on “legitimate pedagogical concerns” [Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier (1988) 484 U.S. 260].

In 1992, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Scalia explained that government restrictions on speech are not absolutely prohibited. And he noted that sexually derogatory “fighting words” in the workplace are not protected by the First Amendment:

Thus, for example, sexually derogatory “fighting words,” among other words, may produce a violation of Title VII’s general prohibition against sexual discrimination in employment practices. [citations omitted] Where the government does not target conduct on the basis of its expressive content, acts are not shielded from regulation merely because they express a discriminatory idea or philosophy. [RAV v. City of St. Paul (1992) 505 U.S. 377, 389-390]

In 2003, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) issued a Dear Colleague Letter to confirm that “There is no conflict between the civil rights laws that this Office enforces and the civil liberties guaranteed by the First Amendment.” In other words, Title IX prohibits harassment that is serious enough to limit or deny a student’s educational opportunities, not speech that is protected under the First Amendment.

In its 1997 Sexual Harassment Guidance, the OCR describes the balance between a school’s Title IX obligations and the protection of academic freedom, which does not involve bright lines:

Overall, the Guidance illustrates that in addressing allegations of sexual harassment, the judgment and common sense of teachers and school administrators are important elements of a response that meets the requirements of Title IX . . . the resolution of cases involving potential First Amendment issues is highly fact-and context-dependent. Thus, hard and fast rules are not appropriate.

Since schools must address these issues on a case-by-case basis, next we’ll look at faculty and student conduct to illustrate some of the factors that help schools determine when civil liberties must give way to civil rights.

Unpopular and Offensive Content

A recent case made headlines when Northwestern Professor Laura Kipnis complained about her institution’s sexual harassment policies and found herself in the middle of what she called “My Title IX Inquisition.” Two students had filed a Title IX complaint for retaliation based on Professor Kipnis’s essay, “Sexual Paranoia Strikes Academe,” in which she wrote that the new sexual harassment policies “aren’t just a striking abridgment of everyone’s freedom, they’re also intellectually embarrassing. Sexual paranoia reigns; students are trauma cases waiting to happen.”

After an investigation, Northwestern found Professor Kipnis had not violated Title IX. As pointed out by Erin Buzuvis of the Title IX Blog, a Title IX violation requires severe or pervasive conduct that “would have to rise to the level of retaliatory harassment.” Additionally, Kipnis wrote about a matter of public concern. Without more, unpopular and offensive content about a matter of public concern does not violate Title IX.

In another case involving allegations of faculty-on-student harassment, Professor Silva used this example to gain his students’ attention: “Belly dancing is like jello on a plate with a vibrator under the plate.” Professor Silva said he was illustrating how to define concepts in a technical report by using a general classification and a simple metaphor. He was suspended from teaching a technical writing class.

However, the court found that Professor Silva was disciplined “simply because six adult students found his choice of words to be outrageous,” even though his example was used for a valid educational objective and was part of a college class lecture, and these were adult college students. Thus, the court concluded that using the school’s sexual harassment policy to discipline Silva’s classroom speech violated the First Amendment [Silva v. University of New Hampshire (USDC NH 1994) 888 F.Supp. 293].

A federal court found the definition of Temple University’s sexual harassment policy too broad because harassment was not qualified with a severe or pervasive requirement. Therefore, it could prohibit speech protected by the First Amendment [DeJohn v. Temple University (3d Cir. 2008) 537 F.3d 301]. The policy definition also prohibited “gender-motivated” conduct, which focused on the actor’s intent rather than the actual effect of creating a hostile environment that interferes with a person’s educational opportunities.

Another federal court rejected a student’s claim that Oakland University’s conduct code was too broad because the court concluded that the student did not engage in constitutionally-protected speech. The adult male student wrote “lascivious entries” in a Daybook assignment, expressing lust for his female English professor, which the court found this was not “pure speech,” as in Tinker. Nor was the student expressing his views on matters of public concern. The court concluded that “speech protected in other settings is not necessarily protected when made in response to a classroom assignment and when directed at one’s professor” [Corlett v. Oakland University (USDC ED MI 2013) no. 13-11145].

In summary, legally sound sexual harassment policies define the prohibited conduct consistent with the First Amendment and OCR’s sexual harassment guidance. The cases also provide these factors to help determine if a professor’s statements were protected speech, including: (1) the age and sophistication of the students, (2) the relationship between the teaching method and a valid educational objective, and (3) the context and manner of presentation.
And, finally, OCR also advises schools to seize a teachable moment:

[W]hile the First Amendment may prohibit a school from restricting the right of students to express opinions about one sex that may be considered derogatory, the school can take steps to denounce those opinions and ensure that competing views are heard.