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Sexual Violence

Campus Climate Surveys: Published Data & Results
Posted by On Thursday, August 6, 2015

As the desire for Sexual Assault Climate Surveys builds momentum on college campuses, important information can be gathered from schools who have already implemented surveys. Our first post on climate surveys last week described the purpose of climate surveys and some initial resources to consider if you’re looking to implement a survey on your campus.

Barnard College (Barnard), University of Chicago (UChicago), University of Michigan (Michigan), Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and University of Nevada-Reno (UNR) have all published results from campus climate surveys they’ve implemented on their campuses in the last few years. All of the schools except for Michigan sent out a survey to all students on their campus. and the response rates ranged from 28% to 35%.  Michigan sent out their survey to a random representative sample of 3,000 students and received a response rate of 67%. Each school had a higher response rate for self-identified females than males by 9-11%.

Below are a few summarized take-aways from the reports of these five schools.

  • Over 80% of women report hearing sexist jokes or remarks since being in college.
  • Of those who have been sexually assaulted, anywhere from 45-65% say that they told someone about the experience, however only 3-5% officially reported the assault.
  • Anywhere from 8-10% of women report experiencing non-consensual sexual penetration since being in college.
  • Over 60% of students report having a friend who has experienced sexual assault.

In April, the Association of American Universities partnered with Westat to develop a sexual assault climate survey for 28 (included Dartmouth, a non-AAU member) of its member universities to implement on their campuses. The same survey will be used for all 28 campuses, and the AAU has committed to publishing aggregate data across all survey users. A results comparison just from Barnard, UChicago, Michigan, MIT, and UNR shows that there will likely be similar outcomes across campuses, despite unique campus demographics. These consistencies lead to the conclusion that sexual assault on college campuses is an epidemic rather than many isolated incidents. Hopefully the new survey data will propel educators, policy-makers, parents, and other stakeholders into action to create societal change around the climate of sexual assault both on and off college campuses.

Our third post in the Campus Climate Surveys series will come out next week, detailing what research and experts are saying about the importance and potential impact of these surveys.

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Campus Climate Surveys: Getting Started
Posted by On Thursday, July 30, 2015

In April of 2014, the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault published a report naming sexual assault-specific campus climate surveys as a “best practice response to campus sexual assault” and urging “schools to show they’re serious about the problem by conducting [a] survey next year.”  We have long known that sexual assaults are under reported, causing it to be impossible to get a realistic understanding of the climate through reports alone. Climate surveys provide students an opportunity to share their experiences, as well as their perceptions and knowledge, anonymously.  Climate surveys can help administrators better grasp the climate as well as develop needs-informed programming and education. Climate surveys provide an assessment tool for campuses to make positive impact and show that they are taking the issue of sexual assault seriously.

Although climate surveys are not yet mandated under Title IX or the Clery Act, many suggest that they soon will be part of a school’s compliance practices. Under New York’s new “Enough is Enough” law, colleges and universities will be required to assess their campus climate every other year. Other states might follow New York’s lead. At CampusClarity, we want to make sure that schools have everything they need to be in compliance while also doing the best to create a safe and inclusive campus for all students. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be writing a series of posts about Campus Climate Surveys.  This is the first installment.

While there has yet to be a lot of research done on the effectiveness of climate survey instruments, there are a few trailblazers creating and implementing tools deemed successful.  If your campus is looking to administer a survey, take a look at these resources that can help you get started.

Our post next week will detail what we’ve learned from schools like the University of Michigan and MIT, who have already administered and published results from sexual assault campus climate surveys.

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Why Parents Matter: New Partners in Sexual Assault Prevention
Posted by On Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Red Converse

The decline of universities serving in loco parentis (in the place of parents) began in 1961 with the Dixon versus Alabama case that propelled due process for students into the limelight. Since then, universities have sought to keep parents at arm’s length. Orientation programs are designed to separate students from parents and ensure that parents leave their children as soon as possible so that the process of becoming a college student can begin. And universities use FERPA as a tool for keeping communication solely with the student and the university, despite parents’ objections to the contrary. But recently, parents have emerged as a focal point again for universities who see the value in partnering with them on a variety of strategies: for better 4-year graduation rates; for meeting university deadlines, policies, and procedures; for additional funding opportunities; and for helping their students succeed overall.

Rather than parents hesitating to send their students to college for fear of sexual assault, let’s invite them into the dialogue, and discuss ways they can help us change the culture together. Recent studies have shown that parents can have an effect on reducing not only binge drinking, but also non consensual sexual activity related to binge drinking.

In “Do Parents Still Matter? Parent and Peer Influences on Alcohol Involvement among Recent High School Graduates” published in the Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, the authors found that perceived parent involvement leads to weaker peer influence and related alcohol use and associated problems. And in “Preventing College Women’s Sexual Victimization through Parent Based Intervention: A Randomized Control Trial,” authors Maria Testa, Joseph Hoffman, Jennifer Livingston, and Rob Turris designed a Parent Based Intervention (PBI) to reduce the incidence of alcohol-involved sexual victimization among first-year college students. Students who had conversations with mothers that received the PBI (an educational handbook) saw lower incidences of incapacitated rape.

With the enormous responsibilities and pressure that colleges are facing, it might be daunting to consider adding yet another subset to training and education around sexual assault. Some states, like New York, are even requiring that parents become a part of the college’s educational platform. Asking parents to be a part of your institution’s sexual assault prevention program, however, can be an important part in your prevention toolkit, and it can serve the dual purpose of helping to communicate your institution’s commitment to the issue. With myriad ways for universities to include parents (from admission events to orientation programs, and even a simple letter with resources and guides), the changing culture around parent involvement just might help us also change the culture on sexual assault.

For more resources and our webinar on getting parents involved click here.

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Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, July 17, 2015

This week a new movie anatomizes the Stanford Prison Experiment and how our environments influence our behavior, a California Court rules that a school’s hearing panel violated an accused students right to a fair hearing, and a new study challenges the belief that most campus rapes are committed by serial perpetrators.

Stanford Prison Experiment Movie

The fact-based dramatization of the Stanford Prison Experiment is released in theaters today.  The Stanford Prison Experiment was conducted by Stanford psychologist Phillip Zimbardo in 1971. In the experiment, 24 college males were placed into a simulation where half were given the role of prison guard and the other half the role of prisoner.  These assumed roles had detrimental impacts causing the 14-day experiment to be cut off after just six days.  The Experiment has been inspiration for two previous movies and a BBC series, but this film is considered to be the most realistic insight into the actual events involved in the Prison Experiment.  The Stanford Prison Experiment was important for many reasons.  It took regular people – even referred to as “peaceniks” prior to the Experiment – and either gave then either a sense of power or a sense of defeat. “No, see that’s what’s been happening …we’re saying it’s a few bad apples, it’s isolated,” Zimbardo said on CNN in 2004. “But what’s bad is the barrel.”  The study suggests that individuals are products of the environments that they exist in.  While this does not remove fault on an individual for committing a crime, it gives insight into the importance of holistic societal change.  

California Court Rules Accused Student Denied a Fair Hearing

Last week, a California Superior Court judge ruled that in a Roe (she said) vs. Doe (he said) case, a University of California San Diego hearing panel violated Doe’s right to a fair hearing. The right to cross-examine the accused was one of the central issues in the case, leading the court to conclude that the “limiting of questions in this case curtailed the right of confrontation crucial to any definition of a fair hearing.” Specifically, the court found it unfair that the Panel Chair asked only nine of the thirty-two questions submitted by Doe, paraphrased questions, allowed “restricted answers and prevented any follow-up,” and put up a screen between Roe and Doe, denying him the right to confront his accuser. We have previously written about the right to cross-examine the accuser in campus sexual assault hearings, citing a decision by a U.S. District Court in New York, which found that constitutional due process in a case where a male student was accused of rape “required that the panel permit the [accused] . . . to direct questions to his accuser through the panel.” [Donohue v. Baker, et al. (USDC NDNY 1997) 976 F.Supp.136] And in its Order dismissing a lawsuit against St. Joseph’s University filed by a student suspended for sexual misconduct, a U.S. District Court in Pennsylvania stated that the Office for Civil Rights strongly discourages schools to allow the accused student to personally confront or cross-examine the accuser. [Harris v. Saint Joseph's University (USDC EDPA 2013) no. 2:13-cv-03937] However, as the Title IX Blog points out, the recent California decision reminds schools that “It is possible to hold fair hearings and comply with Title IX and that is what colleges and universities should be striving to do.”

What If Most Campus Rapes Aren’t Committed by Serial Rapists?

A study published this week challenges the belief that most campus rapes are committed by serial perpetrators. An influential 2002 study by David Lisak and Paul Miller found 4% of surveyed men were responsible for over 90% of self-reported rapes and 28% of self-reported violence, suggesting that “a relatively small proportion of men are responsible for a large number of rapes and other interpersonal crimes.” Lisak and Miller’s findings were bolstered by a 2009 study of enlisted men in the Navy. The new research released this week, led by Kevin Swartout, an assistant professor of psychology at Georgia State University, found that “most college men who perpetrate rape do so during relatively limited time frames.” Instead of measuring the number of incidents that an individual committed, as Lisak and Miller did, Swartout and his co-researchers examined how many time periods in which an individual reported perpetrating rape. Most men (74.7%) “who committed college rape only perpetrated rape during 1 academic year.” Furthermore, the men at greatest risk of perpetrating rape changed: those men most likely to commit rape before college were not the men most likely to rape in college. The study undermines the assumption that there is “a cohesive group of men who consistently committed rape” on campus. Overall, 10.8% of the men surveyed in the study reported perpetrating rape. Swartout’s findings may change how institutions approach preventing and responding to sexual violence. Andra Tharp, a senior adviser for the Air Force’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response division, told FiveThirtyEight, “if [rape is] mostly sporadic and opportunistic behavior, we need to think more about prevention and intervention — a broader public health approach instead of focusing primarily on a few high-risk individuals.”

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Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Thursday, July 2, 2015

This week the Campus SaVE Act final regulations officially go into effect, the role of judges in campus hearings, and new research on bystander intervention.

The VAWA/Campus SaVE Act Final Regulations Go into Effect

Over two years ago, on March 7, 2013, President Obama signed the Campus SaVE Act into law as part of the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 (VAWA). The Campus SaVE Act increased the Annual Security Report crime reporting categories, and requires colleges and universities receiving federal funds to provide student and employee awareness training on campus sexual violence.
This week, VAWA’s final regulations went into effect after several months of negotiated rulemaking, and request for public comments . While the final regulations have only just gone into effect, colleges and universities have been expected to make good faith efforts to comply with these new requirements in the interim (). Compliance now requires schools to follow the letter and not just the spirit of the law. This Huffington Post article provides a convenient breakdown of what schools must do this year to comply with the regulations and a brief discussion of its significance. Also, see our Campus SaVE Act compliance checklist and rundown of the final regulations, or review our summary of additional requirements under new state legislation.

Should Judges Be Overseeing Campus Hearings?

More and more colleges and universities are turning to judges to oversee campus hearings, especially when they involve sexual assaults, according to this article at Inside Higher Ed. Supporters of the this development argue that judges can serve as impartial and qualified parties to hear these complicated cases. Critics suggest that using judges will make campus hearings more like a courtroom, something the Department of Education has been careful to avoid, since campus hearings provide students an alternative to the legal system. “We’re not in a court, we’re in a hearing about a school’s code, and I think there is a value to not making it like a courtroom,” explained Laura Dunn, the founder and director of a victims’ advocacy group. Another sign of the “professionalization” of campus hearings, according to the article, is the greater role lawyers are playing. Several states have passed or are considering legislation that would allow lawyers to more fully participate in campus proceedings. Despite the push towards greater professionalization, uncertainty still surrounds these developments. Peter Lake, a law professor at Stetson University, told Inside Higher Ed, “I think people are experimenting with a variety of different models, and there are some who think that working with highly professionalized external adjudicators is the right pathway, especially in complex or high-profile cases. It’s uncharted territory. We’re essentially creating a college court system.”

Bystander Intervention and Cyberbullying

According to a recent study, several factors influence a bystander’s willingness to respond to an incident of cyberbullying in an online forum: the forum’s level of anonymity, the bystander’s relationship to the victim, and the number of people participating. Reported by Inside Higher Ed, the study found that the bigger the group, the greater the anonymity, and the more distant the relationships between the participants, the less likely someone would respond to cyberbullying. “Once online identity is disconnected from offline identity, it can sometimes lead to antisocial online communication,” Nicholas Brody, one of the study’s authors, told Inside Higher Ed. The greater anonymity of online courses reduces participants’ feelings of personal responsibility for intervening. “It comes down to friendship and closeness,” Brody told Inside Higher Ed. “People are going to help out their friends.” Brody suggests that professors who are worried about cyberbullying in their online classes could organize smaller group work and interactions outside of the classroom to encourage students to build relationships with each other. As schools continue to develop their online course offerings, it will be interesting to see how they address sexual violence prevention in these settings.

 

 

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Recent State Laws: From “Campus Carry” to “Enough is Enough”
Posted by On Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Our primary focus has been on federal legislation to address campus sexual violence, including the pending HALT and CASA bills, as well as the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 regulations that become effective July 1, 2015.

However, there have been a number of recent state law developments that pose additional challenges to many school administrators across the country. Below is a snapshot of some of the current state requirements for responding to and preventing campus sexual violence.

California
Previously, we reported on California’s “Yes Means Yes” law, which requires California’s colleges and universities receiving state funds for student financial aid to adopt a policy that defines what does and does not constitute consent to sexual activity. The law also has a July 1, 2015 deadline to have policies in place to ensure reports of violent crime, hate crime, and sexual assault received by campus security authorities are immediately disclosed to local law enforcement. To help schools comply with this requirement, California Attorney General Kamala Harris released a Model Memorandum of Understanding, which Harris said “will help break down silos between campuses and law enforcement agencies to provide sexual assault victims with the help they need and hold more perpetrators accountable.” This MOU adopts best practices for collaboration between school officials and law enforcement agencies, including: clarifying their respective duties following an assault, working together to connect victims to services, and providing regular training for campus and law enforcement communities.

Colorado
On May 4, 2015, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper signed HB 15-1220, which requires agreements between public and private colleges and universities and medical or other facilities where sexual assault victims can receive medical and forensic exams. Schools also need to make transportation to these facilities and referrals to advocates available to victims, and have sexual assault training and response policies.

Connecticut
Over the past several months, Connecticut has enacted laws to:

  • allow an anonymous reporting option, and require annual reports to the legislature on the school’s policies, victim rights, crime reports, and the number of disciplinary cases with final outcomes (HB 2059)
  • require memoranda of understanding with community-based assault crisis service centers and domestic violence agencies (HB 6695)
  • require sexual assault forensic examiners to provide care and treatment to victims of sexual assault at school health care facilities (SB 966)

Connecticut Senate Bill 636 is currently pending, which would establish an affirmative consent standard similar to California’s to be applied in sexual assault and intimate partner violence cases.

Illinois
Both Houses of the Illinois legislature have passed HB 821, the Preventing Sexual Violence in Higher Education Act, requiring colleges and universities to adopt comprehensive policies to address campus sexual violence. If signed by the governor, this Act will require schools to provide survivors’ notification of their rights and options, confidential advisors, and emergency and ongoing support. In addition, schools would need to establish one procedure to resolve complaints and provide sexual violence awareness training and education.

Maryland
Effective July 1, 2015, HB 571 requires colleges to:

  • conduct climate surveys on or before June 1, 2016, and every two years thereafter
  • submit reports to the Higher Education Commission on sexual assault data gathered, including number of complaints received, disciplinary action taken, and victim accommodations made, beginning on October 1, 2016, and every two years thereafter
  • pursue agreements with local law enforcement and local rape crisis programs
  • provide amnesty from code of conduct violations for alcohol or drugs to students who make good faith reports of sexual assault and witnesses who participate in investigations

Effective October 1, 2015, Maryland SB 477 adds victims of dating violence (who have had a sexual relationship with the offender within the past year) to the list of persons eligible for protective orders that provide broader protection for a longer period of time.

Minnesota
Effective January 1, 2017, the Higher Education Omnibus Bill requires public and certain private institutions to adopt policies that:

  • allow victims to decide if their case is referred to law enforcement
  • protect victims’ privacy
  • provide health care or counseling services, or referrals to services
  • prohibit victim blaming and retaliation
  • grant amnesty from drug or alcohol conduct violations to students who make good faith reports of sexual harassment, including sexual violence
  • establish cooperative agreements with local law enforcement
  • establish an online reporting system that allows anonymous reports
  • train investigators and persons adjudicating sexual assault complaints
  • train students within 10 days after the start of a student’s first semester of classes
  • annually train persons responsible for responding to sexual assault reports
  • designate a staff member at student health or counseling centers as a confidential resource

New York
New York’s “Enough is Enough” bill has passed both houses and is expected to be signed by Governor Cuomo. This legislation codifies a sexual assault prevention policy already adopted by all 64 SUNY campuses, requiring public and private colleges and universities with New York campuses to adopt policies that:

  • define consent as a clear, unambiguous and voluntary agreement to engage in specific sexual activity
  • grant immunity for students reporting incidents of sexual assault or violence from certain campus policy violations, such as drug or alcohol use
  • provide a Bill of Rights to all students, informing them of their legal rights and available resources, including outside law enforcement
  • require comprehensive training for administrators, staff, and students

North Dakota
Effective August 1, 2015, Senate Bill 2150 was signed by North Dakota’s governor, making it the third state (see North Carolina General Statutes § 116-40.11 and Arkansas Act 1194) to allow students facing suspension or expulsion the right to be represented by an attorney or non-attorney advocate who may fully participate during disciplinary proceedings involving matters other than academic misconduct.

Oregon
Effective June 10, 2015, HB 3476 prohibits disclosure of communications with victims of sexual violence when they seek help from counselors and advocates unless the victim consents.

Effective January 1, 2016, SB 790 requires school districts to adopt policies that incorporate domestic violence education into training programs for students in grades 7-12 and school employees.

Texas
On June 13, 2015, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed a “campus carry” bill into law, which allows students who are 21 or older to carry concealed firearms on public and certain private college and university campuses. Before the law goes into effect on August 1, 2016, Senate Bill 11 allows school administrators to designate gun-free zones on campus and establish rules for storing handguns in dorms and other residential facilities, but those restrictions may not generally prohibit students from carrying handguns on campus.

Virginia
Enacted April 15, 2015, SB 712 requires specific action when responsible employees receive information about sexual violence, including:

  • the information must be reported to the Title IX coordinator “as soon as practicable after addressing the immediate needs of the victim”
  • the Title IX coordinator must meet within 72 hours with the review committee, which includes representatives of law enforcement and student affairs
  • if the allegations involve felony sexual assault the law enforcement representative must consult with a local prosecutor within 24 hours (however, personally identifiable information about persons involved will not be disclosed unless it is necessary to protect the victim or others)
  • schools must have a memorandum of understanding with a local sexual assault crisis center or other victim support service to connect victim with those services

Additionally, SB 1193 enacted on April 30, 2015, requires schools to include a “prominent notation” on the academic record of anyone who is suspended or dismissed for a sexual violence offense, or withdraws while under investigation. However, the notation will be removed if the student completes the disciplinary action and is thereafter deemed a student in good standing.

Washington
Effective July 24, 2015, Washington’s SB 5518 requires:

  • all institutions of higher education to establish one disciplinary process for sexual violence complaints
  • four-year institutions to conduct campus climate surveys to assess the prevalence of campus sexual assault, evaluate student and employee attitudes and awareness of campus sexual violence issues, and make recommendations for addressing and preventing sexual violence on and off campus
  • report survey results to the legislature by December 31, 2016
  • report on steps taken to enter into memoranda of understanding with local law enforcement by July 1, 2016

The Washington Student Achievement Council will also work with schools to develop rules and guidelines to eliminate gender discrimination, including sexual harassment, against students.

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Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Saturday, June 20, 2015

This week we have a poll reconfirming the statistic that 1 in 5 women will experience sexual assault while in college, and some tips for parents and prospective students to help ensure a safe and positive college experience.

Poll Finds 1 in 5 College Women Say They Were Violated

1 in 5 women will experience sexual assault while in college. That number has stirred considerable controversy in the past few years. Now a new poll, conducted by the Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation, has provided another piece of evidence confirming that number. Overall, the poll found 1 in 4 women and roughly 1 in 14 men said they had experienced unwanted sexual incidents while in college. The Post-Kaiser Poll was modeled after the 2007 Campus Sexual Assault Study, which found similar numbers. The poll also found that sexual assaults were “vastly underreported.” While three-fourths of the individuals who reported experiencing a sexual assault told someone about the incident, only 11% told the authorities. Many myths about sexual violence continue to hang around on college campus, according to the poll, like the belief that women who wear revealing clothes are “asking for trouble.” Despite these findings, however, only 37% of the surveyed students said sexual assault was a problem on campus. The Washington Post has run a series of articles discussing the results of the poll, including powerful interviews with survivors.

10 Questions to Ask when Choosing a School

As campus sexual violence gains greater media attention, it may begin affecting how parents and prospective students evaluate schools. This article, from the Christian Science Monitor, offers some valuable tips to prospective students for determining whether a school has set up adequate responses and prevention efforts to halt campus sexual violence. Though most schools make safety data available through their Clery reports, as the article points out, “the numbers of sexual assaults in Clery reports don’t mean much in isolation.” Counter intuitively, higher numbers may indicate that students feel more comfortable reporting, while lower numbers may indicate a climate more hostile to reporting. The advice comes from S. Daniel Carter, the director of the 32 National Campus Safety Initiative — established through the VTV Family Outreach Foundation, which honors the 32 Virginia Tech shooting victims. The questions Carter provides help probe a school’s prevention and response efforts as well as its disciplinary process. The article also points to other information to consider, such as whether or not the school has a binge drinking culture and whether or not the schools in under investigation by the Department of Education for possible Title IX violations.

What Parents Can Do to Help Prevent Sexual Assault

Parents can do more than just help their children choose a college wisely. A study conducted by the University of Michigan Sociologist Elizabeth Armstrong found that women who had “extended conversations” with their parents about partying and sex were safer in college, according to The Washington Post. The Post’s article lists some of the advice young women heard from their parents, including having a “buddy” when going out or determining one’s boundaries before getting into a sexual situation. Armstrong said that many of the young women “felt uncomfortable” talking to their parents about these issues, “[b]ut they actually were listening.”

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Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, June 12, 2015

A new survey emphasizes the importance of interactive training, an in-depth examination of Title IX as it applies to intimate partner violence, and a look at the human toll of lengthy OCR investigations.

New Study Illustrates the Need for Interactive Training

It’s well-known that anti-sexual violence training is not just required by law but a crucial aspect of campus prevention efforts. However, it’s important to keep in mind that not all training is equally effective. A new study from the University of New Hampshire’s Prevention Innovations Research Center demonstrates that students asked to interact during prevention training—in this case by taking part in a 20-minute conversation about the material they had just covered—were more likely to retain and process information about the school’s resources and policies. Another group of students was read the policies but did not discuss them afterwards, a third group was told they could watch an optional video in which the policies were read aloud, and a fourth group, used as a control, received no education. Students who were read the policies aloud but did not discuss them later showed improved learning, though not as good as that shown by students whose training included an interactive element. Over 70% of students provided with optional video opted not to watch it, and showed no greater improvement than the control group that received no training.

Domestic Violence, Colleges, and Title IX

As we’ve discussed in this space in the past, many activists and experts expect (and hope) that the enormous amount of attention currently directed at sexual assault on campus, and school’s obligation to address it under Title IX, will soon expand to include an equally pressing issue—intimate partner violence at colleges and universities. This article from BuzzFeed delves into the issue more deeply, pointing out that college-aged women are more likely than any other age group to experience intimate partner violence, talking to young women whose educations were disrupted, diminished, and in some cases ended by the trauma they experienced as victim/survivors of domestic violence, examining the legal reasoning behind a school’s Title IX obligation to address intimate partner violence, and taking a look at what schools could do to improve their support for students who have experienced violence at the hands of an intimate partner.

Long OCR Investigations Take a Toll on Complainants

Another story we’ve been following is the increasing length of OCR investigations. This piece from US News puts a human face on the many problems associated with an investigation that takes years to complete, profiling complainants whose cases triggered investigations that may have brought sweeping change to their school’s policies—but only long after they themselves had graduated. As Wendy Murphy, an advocate, attorney, and adjunct professor of sexual violence law, says in the article, “You can’t fix someone’s hostile education environment if they’ve graduated by the time you announce there was a problem.” The article also delves into the reasons for the lengthy investigations, which include skyrocketing rates of complaints, a badly understaffed OCR, and a new (widely heralded) approach to investigations, which takes the most macroscopic look at a school’s culture as opposed to focusing narrowly on the case in question.

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Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, June 5, 2015

The University of San Francisco adopts an innovative new reporting tool, an in-depth look at the facts of false rape reports, and a look back at gains made by student activists over the past year.

USF Launches Online Reporting Tool Callisto

A while back we reported on a new online reporting tool, Callisto, whose proponents believed could dramatically improve the experience of victim/survivors who wanted to report their assaults. Now, for the first time, a university has made plans to use Callisto to allow its students to report sexual violence. The school in question is the University of San Francisco, an institution which has taken the lead on sexual violence prevention in the past, notably collaborating with CampusClarity to produce the first Think About It program. According to USF Vice Provost of Student Life Peter Novak, Callisto can “really change culture” for reporting on the USF campus. The app, which was developed by nonprofit Sexual Health Innovations, has numerous features that could be helpful for a victim/survivor of sexual assault, including the ability to make a time stamped report that they can choose to send in later or if the same perpetrator is named in a subsequent report.

The Cold, Hard Facts of False Rape Reports

It is sometimes claimed that false rape reports could represent anywhere from 1.5% to 90% of the total number of reported rapes. While that range—all but meaningless in its width—may have once represented the extent of our knowledge about the prevalence and nature of false rape reports, today numerous studies have provided a much clearer picture of the nature of this particular problem. This piece from Vox takes a look at studies that took a more rigorous approach to determining whether a report was false or not, either by looking at reports from police who had been trained on the definition of a false report or by investigating the facts of a case to determine whether the evidence did indeed suggest a false report. These studies, taken together, support the growing consensus amongst those who follow issues of sexual violence that false reports account for between 2% and 8% of total reports of rape. They also reveal some interesting, potentially important trends in those false reports. Nearly 80% of false reports “fit the definition of an ‘aggravated rape’”—one involving a weapon, multiple assailants, or injury to the victim/survivor. Almost 50% of false reports described the perpetrator as a stranger as opposed to an acquaintance. Most reports were filed within a day of the alleged incident. According to one researcher, false rape reports were more likely to provide a “clear and coherent” timeline of the attack. These facts suggest that individuals who make false rape reports tend to stick to a narrative based on common misperceptions about how most rape occurs. It also suggests that many of the features of a report traditionally seen as potential “red flags” of a false claim—a delayed report, a confused and confusing story, situations involving intoxications or perpetrators known by the victim/survivor—may in fact be just the opposite.

Big Gains for Activists in 2015

Despite the numerous stories we cover in this space about the work that still needs to be done, there have been real successes over the past few years for those working to prevent campus sexual violence. This piece from the Huffington Post covers notable successes of a very important player in this fight—student activists. These include efforts to improve campus safety and school policies, the successes of the “It’s On Us” campaign, and reforms made by schools at the behest of student activists.

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Emerging Practices: Trigger Warnings
Posted by On

Trigger warnings began as a niche internet convention that is now becoming increasingly more political and institutionalized. A decision to use or not use them should be based in the ethical and medical realities for survivors of trauma and not in a reactionary resistance to change.

Heightened awareness of the ways in which sexual violence affects academic achievement has prompted discussion of new academic practices.  In an effort to reduce re-traumatization of individuals with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and other panic disorders, some student groups have encouraged professors to use trigger warnings for potentially disturbing content.

The concept of trigger warnings is not new. Numerous cultural products from movies to video games are coded with content warnings. However, in a digital moment that is still trying to carve out its linguistic norms, trigger warnings have become a symbol of what its critics call a culture of oversensitivity.

In order for someone or something to be overly sensitive, there must be a consensus about how much sensitivity is normal or reasonable. As the voices of sexual violence survivors become stronger, the standards for how we talk about trauma also begin to change. Considering the significant number of people who have been sexually assaulted, and the significant subset of those people who suffer from PTSD, the decision to employ trigger warnings is an acknowledgement that it is more psychologically costly for victims to discuss sexual violence and other traumas. Trigger warnings suggest that if we can collectively take small steps to prevent re-traumatization, then we should do so.

There may be evidence-based reasons to choose not to employ trigger warnings. One review found that avoiding triggers only reinforces PTSD, and that systematic exposure to triggers is the most effective way to reduce symptoms of PTSD. Although it can be argued that trigger warnings actually allow PTSD patients to develop this system on their own, the warnings may also enable long-term avoidance. Another study found that survivors whose trauma becomes central to their self-image tend to experience more severe symptoms of PTSD. The desire to honor the agency of survivors of sexual violence should be weighed against these findings.

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