Blog

Month: January 2015

Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, January 30, 2015

A new documentary focuses on college sexual assault, a smartphone app aims to help victim/survivors in Washington D.C. and male victim/survivors struggle to find support.

The Hunting Ground

In 2013 Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering shocked the nation with their documentary Invisible War, which focused on sexual assault in the United States Military. Now, they’re turning their camera on American colleges, with The Hunting Ground, which premiered last week at the Sundance Film Festival. According to The New York Times, “audience members repeatedly gasped as student after student spoke on camera about being sexually assaulted—and being subsequently ignored or run through endless hoops by college administrators concerned about keeping rape statistics low.” Set to be released in theaters and air on CNN, and already receiving attention from powerful politicians, including Barbara Boxer and Kirsten Gillibrand, this documentary seems ready to focus even more much-needed attention on campus sexual assault.

ASK Aids DC Victim/Survivors

Washington D.C. offers some of the most comprehensive support in the country for victim/survivors of sexual assault, including guidance from a professional sexual assault counselor, a free ride to Washington D.C. forensic hospital MedStar Washington, and STD tests and HIV-medication free of charge. None of those resources do much good, however, if victim/survivors don’t know they exist or how to access them. That’s where the app Assault Services Knowledge (UASK, in its university specific form) comes in to play. Developed by the group Men Can Stop Rape in conjunction with District of Columbia Mayor’s Office of Victims Services, ASK makes it simple to access available resources by compiling contact information for all local services. The app has already been downloaded 14,000 times, but the ultimate goal is to get the word out to all of Washington’s 100,000 college students and 650,000 residents.

Male Survivors

In a study of male college students, 1 in 25 reported they had been sexually assaulted in their lifetime. A male advocacy group estimates the rate of victimization is much higher at 1 in 6 males are sexually assaulted before age 18. Despite those figures, even a more-than-casual follower of discussions around campus sexual assault might be forgiven for thinking that male victimization is rare or even non-existent. The vast majority of attention focuses on female victim/survivors. Yet, as this profile of a male victim/survivor at Brown University makes clear, that lack of attention can have serious negative consequences for men who experience sexual violence. Societal expectations about masculinity and stereotypes about male victim/survivors, particularly gay male victim/survivors, can discourage reporting or make it more difficult for those who do report to make their stories heard.

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White House Task Force Releases New Resource
Posted by On Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Last April, when the White House released the first report from its Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault, they promised to provide schools with a sample Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with local law enforcement. On Monday, the White House finally released their sample MOU. The release coincided with last week’s anniversary of President Obama establishing the White House Task Force.

As described in the document, Memorandums of Understanding “describe the responsibilities of the parties in carrying out an activity or process of mutual interest.” These documents help schools, local law enforcement, and other key stakeholders respond to and prevent incidents in a more coordinated, collaborative, and effective way.

The sample MOU, however, is only meant as a road map; each institution will have to tailor it to its unique needs. As the Department of Justice’s press release explained, “the sample MOU is…intended to be a starting point for a conversation between campus administrators, campus police and local law enforcement on how to improve collaborations between critical first responders.”

Furthermore, while the sample MOU is focused on sexual assault, it encourages schools and local enforcement agencies to develop MOUs around other issues, including domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking.

We’ll continue to keep you informed as the White House Task Force releases more resources and information.

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Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, January 23, 2015

This week we have an editorial revealing that American universities are not the only ones with a sexual assault problem, and two new and potentially innovative tactics for addressing the issue in this country.

Britain Has a Problem with College Sexual Assault Too

If you thought campus sexual assault was a uniquely American problem, this editorial from British professor Nicole Westmarland makes it brutally clear that college campuses across the pond have just as much if not more of a problem with sexual violence. In fact, Professor Westmarland cites statistics even more shocking and perturbing than the ones familiar to us from American studies. According to a poll conducted by The Telegraph, 1 in 3 British female college students experience sexual assault. 97% of sexual assault victims do not report their assault to the university, and 44% said they did not report their assault because they believed the university would do nothing about the violence. Westmarland points to these statistics as an indictment of a higher education culture that she believes would prefer to sweep these problems under the rug rather than discuss and address them. Perhaps encouragingly (at least for Americans) she points to current efforts being taken to address sexual violence on this side of the Atlantic as a model for British universities looking to fight back against campus rape.

Could Sorority Ragers Help Fight Sexual Assault?

Alcohol-fueled fraternity parties have been the setting for numerous high-profile sexual assault cases. Alcohol-fueled sorority parties have not, probably because, by and large, such events do not exist. Now, some female students are wondering whether they should, suggesting not only that a party hosted by a sorority might not pose the same risks as one hosted by a fraternity, but that such events could decrease the overall danger of sexual assault on campus. The theory goes that drinking in a setting where women are in control—of who can and cannot be in their house, of the flow of alcohol, and of their own ability to go upstairs and lock the door at any time—would reverse a power dynamic that at fraternities contributes to the prevalence of sexual assault. Critics of this logic point out that sororities rarely host parties for good reasons, which include the cost of insurance and potential damage to property that generally belongs to a national organization. Furthermore, they suggest that providing yet another venue for excessive drinking may be exactly the wrong strategy for combating a problem closely linked to excessive alcohol consumption.

How Can Taxes and Marijuana Fight Sexual Assault?

Curbing excessive drinking is the heart of the tactic suggested by this piece from New York Magazine. However, author Annie Lowrey suggests a novel tool in the seemingly age-old (and often futile) efforts by schools and government to cut down on students’ drinking: taxation. According to Lawrey, “Study after study has shown that ‘higher prices or taxes were associated with a lower prevalence of youth drinking.’” She posits that increased taxation of alcohol, and especially of alcohol sold in close proximity to college campuses, will lead to decreased drinking and, as a result, a decrease in sexual assaults. The second, more controversial bonus suggestion? That legalizing marijuana could similarly decrease student drinking and thus assaults. According to Lowrey, “there is some evidence that young people tend to substitute pot for alcohol.” Drawing on evidence that cannabis use reduces the likelihood of violent behavior, while drinking increases it, Lowrey suggests that making marijuana more widely available could decrease the risk of assault on college campuses.

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Free Infographic on Stalking
Posted by On Thursday, January 22, 2015

What is StalkingJanuary is National Stalking Awareness Month, an event especially relevant to college campuses, since, according to a recent study, college students are more likely to experience stalking than the general public. The study was done by the Crime Victims’ Institute at Sam Houston State University. Researchers drew on data from the 2006 National Crime Victimization Survey Stalking Victimization Supplement.  They discovered that only 2.2% of the general public experienced stalking in the past year compared to 4.3% of college students. Furthermore, while college students were more likely to acknowledge that what they experienced was stalking, they were less likely to report it to the police.

To help spread awareness and promote safety on your campus, download and share this infographic with key information about who is at risk for stalking and what to do if you are being stalked.

 

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Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, January 16, 2015

This week’s roundup includes new PSAs against domestic violence, the disturbing results of a survey on sexual assault, and UVA’s new rules for fraternities and sororities.

The NFL and No More

If you’re a football fan there’s a good chance you’ve seen PSAs from the public awareness campaign No More. No More aims to raise awareness about and work against sexual violence, including both domestic violence and sexual assault. Now the campaign is reaching one of America’s biggest audiences with PSAs featuring NFL players, run during NFL games. The partnership arose out of the NFLs attempts to rehabilitate their image in the wake of the Ray Rice scandal, an incident that called the league’s commitment to working against sexual violence into serious question. While most of the spots feature players reiterating the message of “no more,” as in “No more ‘we don’t talk about that’,” or “No more ‘boys will be boys’,” many feel that the most powerful of the No More PSAs is the “Speechless” series, unplanned pieces filmed as players prepared, and sometimes struggled, to talk about sexual violence.

Would 1/3 of College Men Commit Rape if They Could Get Away With It?

The alarming answer to that question is yes, according to a recently published survey. When asked if they would have “intentions to force a woman to sexual intercourse” if “nobody would ever know and there wouldn’t be any consequences,” 32 percent of the study’s participants answered yes. When asked if they would have “any intentions to rape a woman” that number dropped to 13.6%, a result with the disturbing implication that many men do not consider “forcing a woman to sexual intercourse” to be a definition of rape. Perhaps unsurprisingly, willingness to commit rape, no matter how the crime was described, correlated with hostile attitudes towards woman and viewpoints that, according to the study, “objectify women and expect men to exhibit sexual dominance.”

UVA’s New Greek Policy

In the wake of the now-discredited Rolling Stone article that alleged a brutal gang rape at a University of Virginia fraternity, UVA has rolled out new rules for their Greek organizations aimed at curbing the threat of sexual assault. In an agreement fraternities and sororities must sign before resuming activities, the school lays out strict rules for drinking at Greek events. These rules include the requirement that beer must be served in closed containers and that hard alcohol can only be served if the organization hires a bartender. While some people have applauded the new focus on safety and preventing sexual assault, others argue that reducing drinking is the wrong approach. These critics argue that putting the focus on college drinking amounts to blaming victims of assault for the violence perpetuated against them.  Others question the efficacy of the new rules, pointing out that the legal drinking age of 21 is widely flouted on campus, and questioning whether the university will work to enforce the rules it is introducing. Two fraternities at UVA have already refused to sign the new agreement, arguing that it “may create new liability for individual members of our organizations that is more properly a duty to be borne by the university itself.”

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Measuring Sexual Violence
Posted by On Thursday, January 15, 2015

Last month we wrote about what we learned from the Bureau of Justice Statistics new report, “Rape and Sexual Assault Among College-Age Females, 1995-2013.” We noted that the rates reported by the BJS, which were based on the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), differ from other widely cited statistics about the prevalence of rape among college-age women. In this post, we’ll dive deeper into why these numbers are so different.

What Are the Other Reports?

The NCVS is one of three recent surveys that researchers have used to study rape and sexual assault among college students and in the general population.

The other two are:

The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS) 

The Campus Sexual Assault Study (CSA)

Other surveys worth mentioning are the National Violence Against Women Survey and The Sexual Victimization of College Women. Though both studies date to the late 90s, their findings have also been widely cited and can provide useful context and background for anyone who wants to understand this complicated issue.

They Do Different Things

The NISVS, CSA, and NCVS differ in purpose and methodology.

NCVS is a survey about crime. The survey grew out of the realization that many crimes were not reported to police and that a more accurate measure of victimization was needed. Hence, unlike the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting, the NCVS surveys respondents about both reported and unreported crimes.

CSA and NISVS approach rape and sexual assault from a public health perspective. The purpose of the CSA was “To examine the prevalence, nature, and reporting of various types of sexual assault experienced by university students in an effort to inform the development of targeted intervention strategies.” The NISVS’s primary objectives are to measure the prevalence of intimate partner violence and the impact and health consequences of this violence on victims.

They Employ Different Survey Methods

The NCVS follows a group of households over several years, interviewing them every six months. In contrast, the CSA and NISVS are surveys that capture responses from a single point in time. The NCVS asks respondents about events that happened since the last interview, whereas the CSA and NISVS ask about events that occurred during a specified reference period.

The problem in the CSA and NISVS’s approach is that respondents may unintentionally over report the experiences by including events that fell outside the time frame as if they fell within the time frame. According to NCVS, the reporting of traumatic events may be particularly prone to this effect (called telescoping). Thus cross-sectional studies (like the CSA and NISVS) may end up with higher rates than longitudinal studies like the NCVS.

In the NCSV and NISVS, the researchers interview the respondents. This allows them to clarify any confusion around questions but also introduces the possibility that the interviewer might steer or otherwise affect the subject. The CSA, on the other hand, was a web-based survey, which eliminated the influence the interviewer might exert on the respondents but also prevented the respondents from clarifying any confusion they may have had.

They Use Different Definitions

Because the NCVS is a survey about crime, it uses definitions of rape and sexual assault that are “shaped from a criminal justice perspective.” CSA and NISVS use broader definitions of sexual assault that may include incidents that do not rise to the level of a crime. See definitions below (warning: the definitions include explicit language).

The NCVS defines rape as “the unlawful penetration of a person against the will of the victim, with use or threatened use of force, or attempting such an act.” Sexual assault is defined more broadly and generally involves unwanted sexual contact.

The CSA measures rape due to force and incapacitation (that is, when the victim is incapacitated by drugs or alcohol). It also measures unwanted sexual contact.

The NISVS measures five types of sexual violence: rape (including due to incapacitation), sexual coercion (“unwanted vaginal, oral, or anal sexual penetration that occurs after a person is pressured in a nonphysical way”), being made to penetrate someone else, unwanted sexual contact (such as kissing or fondling), and non-contact unwanted sexual experiences (such as flashing or harassment).

They Ask Different Questions

NCVS asks directly about rape, whereas CSA and NISVS both use behavioral cue questions.

For example, the NCVS asks, “has anyone attacked or threatened you in any of these ways…any rape, attempted rape, or other type of sexual attack.” Whereas the NISVS and CSA avoid the terms rape and focus instead on describing events that would qualify as sexual assault or rape, “When you were drunk, high, drugged, or passed out and unable to consent, how many people ever…had vaginal sex with you?”

The way these questions are asked influences how respondents answer. Critics of the NCVS suggest that by asking directly about rape, it fails to measure victims who have experienced rape but may not realize it or may not wish to acknowledge it. Critics of the CSA and NISVS’s questions suggest that they over report sexual assault by using broader and potentially confusing definitions.

They Survey Different People

The CSA only surveys students, and the NISVS does not ask respondents whether or not they are students. Thus, NCSV is the only one of the three surveys that allows researchers to reliably compare rates between students and non-students.

It should also be noted that while both the NCVS and NISVS survey the general population, the CSA only surveyed undergraduate students at two large public universities (one in the South and one in the Midwest).

Interested in More Information?

The National Crime Victimization Survey offers its own discussion of why rates of sexual violence vary between different surveys. We recommend that you read their analysis.

 

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Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, January 9, 2015

For our first roundup of the year we bring you resources for addressing stalking and sexual assault as well as a look forward at the future of fraternities on American campuses.

Stalking Awareness Month

January is National Stalking Awareness Month. College-aged women are more likely to be victims of stalking than any other age group. Furthermore, students’ predictable schedules make them especially vulnerable to stalking, making NSAM particularly relevant to college campuses. Click the link above to learn more about National Stalking Awareness Month, and access a variety of useful resources, including fact sheets, posters, videos, reports, and more.

A Reader’s Guide to Campus Sexual Assault

The Chronicle of Higher Education has published a useful reader’s guide to campus sexual assault which compiles recent reporting on the issue. It includes potentially valuable resources such as a Q&A from the Education Department on how to handle reports of sexual violence and a history explaining “Why Colleges Are on the Hook for Sexual Assault.” While you’re at the Chronicle’s website you can offer your two cents on the issue by filling out their survey on how your campus is handling sexual assault.

The Future of Fraternities

For many college fraternities 2014 was a turbulent year, with one or more frats suspended at over ten schools for serious incidents, including numerous sexual assaults and accidental deaths. With the national conversation around campus sexual assault shining a withering light on the darker aspects of Greek life on American campuses, now seems as good a time as any to consider the future of the American frat—how to maximize the benefits fraternities can bring to campus while minimizing the harm. Naturally there are various views on how to do that, ranging from those who think that the Greek system is an anachronism that has outlived its utility to staunch believers in the power of fraternities and sororities to shape college students into future leaders. While the future of the Greek system and higher education is unclear, this article provides some interesting ideas about where it might go next.

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Interview with Dr. Barbara Thomas on Maintaining Healthy Relationships
Posted by On Thursday, January 8, 2015

Watch Dr. Barbara Thomas, Senior Director of Counseling and Psychological Services at the University of San Francisco, talk about the nature of productive and healthy relationships and the key to maintaining them.

In the video, Dr. Thomas explains how relationships change over time and how this change enables couples to reach “a co-creative stage, where you and I together, we’re more than what we are individually.” In a dynamic relationship, Thomas stresses, it’s important to stay honest with your partner and be open to new ideas that will allow the relationship to grow.

Thomas provides excellent advice to anyone in a relationship, but administrators and student health professionals may be particularly interested in using this video in student workshops to teach these lifelong skills for building healthy relationships.

 

Email us your ideas about how you’ve used or are planning on using the video, and we’ll post them on the blog to share with other readers.

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Yearly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, January 2, 2015

In lieu of our usual Weekly Roundup we want to start 2015 with a look back at six of the most important stories we covered in 2014. We list them here in the order in which they were originally published.

White House Task Force Tells Victims “You’re Not Alone”

This year the Obama administration launched its anti-sexual assault campaign in earnest, including a White House task force and the ad campaign “It’s On Us.”

A Checklist for Title IX Employee Training

If you have any doubts about what your Title IX training for faculty and staff should include, take a look at this useful checklist compiled by our legal team.

2 Minutes Will Change How Your Students Think About Consent

Teaching the definition of consent can be as awkward as it is crucial. This video, originally created for our award-winning online training, tackles this potentially tough lesson in an engaging, easy to follow format.

The Campus Accountability and Safety Act

One of the biggest stories about campus sexual assault and higher education law in 2014, the proposed Campus Accountability and Safety Act, is almost certainly going to be an even bigger story in 2015. Get the scoop now on what the proposed legislation could mean for your institution.

California’s New Consent Law: Yes Means Yes vs. No Means No

Even if California law doesn’t apply to you and your institution, this rundown of the Golden State’s new affirmative consent law is an instructive analysis of the difference between “No Means No” and “Yes Means Yes” definitions of consent.

A Rundown of the Campus SaVE Act Final Regulations: Prevention Programs

Finally, our legal team provides an analysis of a topic with which they are particularly familiar: what the Campus SaVE Act’s final regulations require for schools’ prevention programs. Check out the link above to learn what your institution has to do to be in compliance.

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