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Sexual Violence

The Passing of the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Rights Act
Posted by On Friday, October 21, 2016

On Friday October 7, 2016, President Obama signed into law the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Rights Act, which guarantees specific rights to survivors of sexual assault. The driving force behind this Act was led by Rise, a civil rights nonprofit organization founded by Amanda Nguyen, a sexual assault survivor herself. Given her own struggles to prevent authorities from destroying her rape kit after a certain amount of time, Nguyen felt that something needed to be done to protect the rights of sexual assault victims.

Until now, many sexual assault survivors have experienced obstacles in their attempt to receive a rape kit examination, as well as frustration with the process that follows. The kit itself consists of a medical examination conducted by trained healthcare professionals to collect and preserve forensic evidence following a sexual assault. Survivors have been burdened with fees, as well as kits that were never examined due to lack of government funds. Some kits were destroyed without prior notification or permission, potentially causing the loss of information that could have resulted in some glimmer of justice.

According to a February 2016 interview with the Guardian, Nguyen was sexually assaulted in October 2014, went through a rape kit examination, and submitted the evidence to Massachusetts. Massachusetts law states that a survivor has 15 years to pursue legal action. However, Nguyen recounts that a pamphlet she received while at the hospital said that she would have to file an extension request if she wanted her test to be preserved for longer than six months, after which time it would be destroyed.

With just the aforementioned information in hand, Nguyen had to do some digging in order to figure out how to file such an extension. To this day, she repeats this process of requesting another extension every six months. Such experiences helped to inspire Nguyen to take action, for herself and for other survivors.

“The system essentially makes me live my life by date of rape,” said Nguyen.

As reported by Mother Jones, the recently passed measure focuses on the collection and preservation of rape kits, ensuring that survivors will not be charged for or be prevented from getting a rape kit examination, even if they have yet to decide whether or not to pursue legal action. Additionally, once the examination has been completed, the kits must be preserved until the applicable statute of limitations runs out, at no cost to the survivor.

Survivors will also be able to request that authorities notify them before destroying their rape kits, with an option of requesting that they continue to be preserved. The measure goes further in guaranteeing survivors the right to be notified of the examination results, including a DNA profiling match and toxicology report. Regardless of whether or not the survivor decides to pursue legal action, they must be informed of their rights.

Nguyen reached out to Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) to help bring her vision to fruition. “Sexual assault remains one of the most underreported crimes and I hope that these basic rights will encourage more survivors to come forward and pursue justice,” said Shaheen in a statement regarding the Act.

In a statement to Buzzfeed news, Nguyen said: “At the heart of this is a deep belief of equality under the law and making sure that when survivors do choose to engage with the justice system that they are met with something that is fair.”

With advocates like Nguyen and Shaheen, we can hope that survivors are met with a justice system that works with them in the aftermath of a sexual assault, rather than having them feel as though it’s against them.

Along with these new rights for survivors, BuzzFeed news reports that the law also calls for “a working group run by the U.S. attorney general and the secretary of health and human services to develop and disseminate to local agencies the best practices for preservation of forensic evidence and treatment of survivors.”

“Half of the battle was getting these civil rights codified, the other half is making sure there is implementation on the ground and enforcement of these rights,” Nguyen told BuzzFeed News.

Nguyen said that she and Rise are going to continue working on reforms at the state level in an effort to improve how law enforcement handles sexual assaults.

I could accept injustice or rewrite the law,” Nguyen said. “I chose rewriting the law.”

For more information regarding the prevention of sexual harassment and misconduct, visit CampusClarity’s home page.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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.

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

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.

In 2013, 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 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.

At the 2015 NASPA conference, 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.

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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.

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Campus Climate Survey Results: AAU Releases Aggregate Data about Sexual Assault
Posted by On Monday, September 21, 2015

Today, the Association of American Universities released aggregate data from the climate survey it conducted at 27 of its member campuses. The results reinforced some of the findings from other campus climate surveys, but also revealed startling new information about how students respond that could inform campus’s prevention programs.

The AAU report says that “the primary goal of the Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct was to provide…information to inform policies to prevent and respond to sexual assault and misconduct.” They survey assessed the incidence and prevalence of sexual assault, the perceptions of risk, the knowledge of resources, and the likelihood of action.

Just over 150,000 students participated in the survey, giving a response rate of around 19%. When students were offered a $5 Amazon gift card, their response rate was 9.3% higher than when they were offered drawing entry or no incentive.  The response rate for females was 7.3% higher than for males. Results varied across the 27 campuses who administered the AAU survey, and it is expected that many schools will release their individual data as well. Although the response rate was lower than desired, this survey gives us one of the largest data pools of its kind.

Overall, there are some findings that are consistent across all campuses.

  • Results confirmed the widely cited statistic that “one in five” women will experience sexual assault while at college.
  • Transgender, Genderqueer, and Gender Nonconforming students are more likely to experience sexual assault or misconduct across all categories.
  • About one quarter of students reported feeling very or extremely knowledgeable about where to report sexual assault.
  • More than 75% of sexual assault cases were never reported using official systems of reporting.
  • Males are more optimistic than females that someone who reports a sexual assault will be supported by their peers.
  • 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.”
  • Over a quarter of senior females reported experiencing sexual contact by force or incapacitation since entering college.

Some of the most interesting results of the findings related to perception of risk and bystander behaviors. Around 20% believe that sexual assault is very or extremely problematic on their campus, but only 5% thought that it was very likely that they would experience it. Over half of students who had witnessed someone acting sexually violent or harassing said they did nothing to intervene. Over three quarters of students who had witnessed a drunk person heading for a sexual encounter said they did nothing to intervene.

What does this mean for student affairs professionals and college administrators? There are a number of action-steps that can be taken from the information gathered through this survey.

  • Sexual assault and misconduct are massive problems on college campuses, and not isolated to individual institutions who are in the media.
  • Even when people believe sexual assault is a rampant problem on their campus, they are unlikely to believe it could happen to them. Students need to be given a realistic understanding about the context of sexual assault on college campuses.
  • Although very few students reported through official means, most students told a friend. Students need the resources and tools to be able to help friends who have experienced sexual assault or misconduct.
  • Students didn’t report for a number of reasons, but most frequently because they did not consider it serious enough. If schools want accurate reporting numbers, they need to send a clear message of what is included in sexual assault or misconduct policies.
  • Most students did not intervene even when they noticed a potential sexual assault. Bystander intervention efforts need to focus both on recognizing what constitutes sexual assault or misconduct and also build motivation for intervention, give students the tools they need, and develop the skills and confidence to intervene.

If you’d like to learn more about climate surveys and discuss ways that you can develop your own or use the aggregate data from the AAU survey to inform your campus programming, join us on Tuesday, October 13th for a webinar with Jessica Ladd from Sexual Health Innovations and Peter Novak from the University of San Francisco. Register at http://bit.ly/1KP34ZT.

To view the entire 288-page report, go here.

To view the survey tool developed by Westat, go here.

To view the fact-sheet summary, go here.

 

 

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Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, August 7, 2015

In this week’s roundup —  the Department of Justice launches a new website to help schools prevent sexual violence, Netflix makes a big announcement that may have impact other employers, and an interview with a professor who studies how roommates influence each other.

DOJ Launches Website

The U.S. Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women launched its new website changingourcampus.org, which Principal Deputy Director Bea Hanson of the OVW said provides “access to cutting-edge tools, including sample policies, protocols, and best practices, that can be adapted and replicated on colleges and universities across the country.” Here’s a sample of what you’ll find:

  • Links to U.S. Department of Education guidance documents, OCR Title IX Resolutions, the VAWA regulations, and FERPA information in one place
  • Links to national resources, recent research and publications on preventing and responding to sexual violence
  • Online prevention efforts and ideas, including CampusClarity
  • Resources for stakeholders, including links to helpful information for organizing and maintaining an effective conduct and disciplinary process
  • Links to Victim Services/Advocates, including a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services resource that helps find health care and mental health facilities in your community

Netflix Offers Unlimited Maternal/Paternal Leave

In a momentous move by Netflix, the world’s leading internet subscription service for watching movies and television shows, the company has decided to change its maternity/paternity leave policies. Effective immediately, new moms and dads, from either childbirth or adoption, will have the ability to take as much paid time off as needed within the first year of parenthood. The press release goes on to state that, “We want employees to have the flexibility and confidence to balance the needs of their growing families without worrying about work or finances. Parents can return part-time, full-time, or return and then go back out as needed.”  This is an especially impressive move due to the current federal regulations around maternity leave.  The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 only mandates that new mothers (who work in a company of 50+ people, have worked there for 12 months, and have worked at least 1,250 hours over the last year) receive a minimum of 12 weeks of unpaid leave.  With the current state of maternity/paternity leave being abysmal, Netflix is trailblazing an employee-centered approach that allows for empowerment and self-accountability.  The Netflix Chief Talent Officer, Tawni Cranz, believes that this will lead to increased focus and dedication of employees.

How Colleges Assign Roommates, and Why It Matters [Gated]

As students start arriving on campuses across the country, many will be meeting the people they will be living with for the next year — for the first time. In this article, The Chronicle‘s Beckie Supiano interviews Bruce Sacerdote, who studies the effects roommates have on each other. Professor Sacerdote claims that more and more schools are randomly assigning roommates to each other. This trend is a good thing, he thinks. Randomization, according Sacerdote, “stimulates cross-geographic, cross-race, cross-cultural interaction.” Basically, Sacerdote’s research indicates that roommates have little effect on GPA, but do affect students’ drinking and social behavior. Interestingly, Professor Sacerdote also claims roommates influence job choice: “so if you happen to get someone who’s interested in finance, it makes you significantly more likely to pursue that both in internships and as a career.” No matter how your campus assigns roommates, the friendships and acquaintances your first-years make this fall will impact them for the rest of their lives.

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