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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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Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, May 22, 2015

A new study reveals a sexual assault epidemic at one school in New York, Huffington Post publishes a list of schools under Title IX investigation for sexual harassment, and U.S. News looks at what’s working and what still needs to be done in the fight against campus sexual assault.

New Study Published on the Prevalence of Sexual Assault

We’ve written extensively about the debate over the prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses, and the need for more data about the rate at which college students are victimized by sexual violence. Now, a new study published by the Journal of Adolescent Health suggests there is at least one upstate New York university where over 18% of women will become victims of rape or attempted rape by the end of their freshman year. Rape was defined as “vaginal, oral, or anal penetration using threats of violence or use of physical force, or using the tactic of victim incapacitation.” 15% of the women surveyed were victims of completed or attempted rape while they were incapacitated, and a further 9% were victims of completed or attempted rape by force. While the survey’s small sample size means that it will not be putting the debate over the nation-wide prevalence of sexual assault to rest, it serves as further evidence of the desperate need to address college campus rapes.

Schools under Title IX Investigation for Sexual Harassment Cases

The Department of Education’s OCR has been disclosing the names of schools under Title IX investigation for failing to properly adjudicate sexual assault cases for some time. What they haven’t done, until now, is release the names of schools under Title IX investigation for mishandling sexual harassment cases. Now, thanks to a Freedom of Information Act request submitted by the Huffington Post, that list of schools is available—click the link above to see it on their website. The Huffington Post makes a strong argument for the relevance of this information to current and prospective students of the listed institutions, pointing out that besides the impact harassment itself has on a student’s well-being and learning environment, such behavior is “inextricably linked” to sexual assault.

Sexual Assault: What’s Working, What Work Still needs to be Done

This piece from US News and World Report takes a look back at some of the efforts to combat sexual assault we’ve seen over the past few years. While the article highlights impressive gains, especially in the arena of increased awareness, it also points out that there is much work that still needs to be done. The piece calls for ongoing training programs that make an actual effort to change campus culture, as opposed to brief sessions intended only to fulfill a legal requirement, and for colleges “to take a more comprehensive approach to addressing sexual assault, rather than a piece-by-piece approach.”

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Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, May 8, 2015

For this week’s roundup we have two different articles focusing on different aspects of the data released last Tuesday by the Department of Education and a list of seven things to know about CASA from the National Law Review.

Good News: The Number of Reported Sexual Assaults is Up

The data released by the Department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) and the Federal Student Aid office (FSA) last Tuesday in response to a request from Senators Barbara Boxer, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Tim Kaine, confirmed a trend we’ve noted earlier —the number of reported sexual assaults on college campuses has been and continues to increase dramatically. In 2009, 3,300 assaults were reported. In 2013, there were over 6,000 reports. As we and others have covered extensively, this is a positive development in the fight against campus sexual violence, suggesting that increased awareness has made students feel more comfortable reporting incidents of sexual violence than they did in the past. However, as pointed out by this article from the Christian Science Monitor, the number of reported assaults still trails far behind the numbers reported in anonymous surveys, indicating there is still much work to do.

Bad News: The Length of OCR Investigations is Also Up

One unfortunate side effect of the federal government’s aggressive efforts to address campus sexual violence is a dramatic increase in the average length of Title IX investigations. The same report discussed in the above story reveals that the average OCR investigation now takes 1,469 days—around four years, meaning that even a student who filed a complaint as a freshman would graduate before the investigation was resolved. As this piece from Bloomberg Business points out, there are serious consequences of an investigation dragging on that long—solutions to the problems that led to the complaint are delayed, the facts of the pertinent cases become more difficult to ascertain, and victim/survivors are denied closure. However, as the renewed focus on sexual assault leads to more and more complaints and investigations, the OCR has seen its budget cut — reducing its full-time staff from 1,148 to 544 between 1980 and 2014 — contributing to delays and a backlog of cases.  The President’s budget proposal and Senators Kaine, Boxer, and Gillibrand have called for increased funding for the OCR.

The National Law Review Tells You What You Need to Know About CASA

If you follow this blog regularly you’ll have seen this analysis of the Campus Accountability and Safety Act, the proposed law with bipartisan support that would introduce new, more stringent regulations for how colleges and universities handle sexual harassment and violence. The article above, published by the National Law Review, highlights seven aspects of the proposed law you should be aware of, including increased fines, a Campus Climate Survey requirement, and broader reporting requirements.

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Ball State Launches Think About It
Posted by On Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Campus SaVE ActSchools often ask us about the experiences of other institutions using Think About It. They’re interested in learning how other schools implement the program, what incentives they use, and what feedback they get from students. This information helps them plan their own strategy to bring Think About It onto their campuses.

The Ball State Daily recently ran an in depth article about their launch of Think About It. The entire article is worth reading for anyone currently using or even thinking about our program. But below are some highlights.

According to the article, 86.7% of incoming freshman at Ball State completed the program in 2014. Amazingly, Ball State didn’t use any incentives besides sending weekly reminders.

As readers of this blog know, we designed Think About It with students for students. A critical part of the process was soliciting student input through numerous focus groups. After all, students have to be engaged in order to learn effectively.

Indeed, the student response was overwhelmingly positive according to Tom Gibson, the Associate Vice President for Student Affairs, who was quoted in the article:

“I think the fact that the course allows students to provide feedback on their experience taking the course was very helpful and reaffirming for us,” Gibson said. “By and large the majority of the students who completed the course said, ‘I didn’t know what to expect, I didn’t think I would find this useful, but you know what? It actually was. So thank you.’ We knew this was the right thing to do, but we didn’t know how well it would be received.”

According to Ball State, one of the advantages of an online program is that helps administrators deliver a single, unified and easily tracked experience to all their students.

Katie Slabaugh, Title IX coordinator for student affairs, said because of the way the program is designed, students aren’t able to just turn it on and walk away; they actually have to be engaged in it.

“The impact of this is that you know more than 85 percent of your new students have completed the course, whereas something that this residence hall may offer to this group of students is not necessarily the equivalent,” Slabaugh said. “This has the benefit of one unified piece of the student union.”

Of course, a one off program is not enough to create culture change on any campus. Federal regulations as well as pedagogical theory recommend that learning be “ongoing.” Students need the opportunity to revisit and deepen their understanding of key learning points. To this end, we offer follow up courses to the main course. Ball State is taking advantage of these resources by asking students to complete our main course and a shorter follow up course, providing students with an extended experience.

We also have numerous offline resources, such as workshops and posters that schools can use to bring the CampusClarity program from online to on campus. As the article also points out our partner on this project, the University of San Francisco, also continues to develop resources that expand the program.

“University of San Francisco is currently working on a Talk About It and a Do Something About It campaign, just trying to create more awareness and get student involvement in things like bystander intervention and really trying to create life-long awareness and involvement in causes like this,” said Deeqa Mohamed, a student peer educator at University of San Francisco.

As Mohamed says, the key here is to instill in students a life-long awareness and involvement in these issues.

After all, the years between 18 and 25 constitute a critical developmental stage, called “emerging adulthood.” In this stage, young men and women experience new levels of autonomy and experiment with possible life directions. Some educators even claim that the emotional and social development that college students undergo during this period exceeds their intellectual development.

By helping students at the start of their college careers, we can have a lasting impact on their lives.

 

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Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, March 6, 2015

For this week’s roundup we have Grinnell’s unusual request to be investigated by the OCR and two stories related to a topic we’re particularly interested in: preventative training for sexual violence and substance abuse.

Grinnell Requests an OCR Investigation of Themselves

Grinnell College has made the unusual and perhaps unprecedented move of requesting that the OCR investigate their handling of sexual assault cases. According to a statement by Grinnell’s president, Raynard Kington, “If Grinnell has fallen short at any point, I want to know about it now, continue to address the problems, and make things right for our students.” Since then it has also been made known that the request came in anticipation of a now-published Huffington Post piece alleging mishandling of three sexual assault cases at Grinnell. According to a letter Kington sent to the campus, “We have specifically invited OCR to review the cases [The Huffington Post] has highlighted to us.” The student and faculty group Dissenting Voices, which believes Grinnell’s sexual assault policies are inadequate, has described the request as an “unprecedented attempt to preemptively control the framing of the issue,” pointing out that six students had already filed complaints with the OCR.

California SB 695 Would Mandate Sexual Violence Prevention Program for High School Students

Federal law (the Campus SaVE Act) already requires colleges and universities to offer sexual assault prevention training to incoming students, but SB 695 introduced last week would require California students to learn about sexual assault violence, and healthy relationships in high school health classes. The bill would further require health classes to teach the affirmative “yes means yes” definition of consent required for the state’s colleges and universities participating in state financial aid programs. Co-author of SB 695, Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson says that it would “give students the skills they may need to navigate difficult situations, and prevent sexual assault before it occurs.”

Substance Abuse Training Must be Reinforced to be Effective

A new study suggests that the effects of  substance abuse training typically administered to college freshmen at or before the start of their college careers tend to wear off over in the course of the year. A study published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology found that a month after receiving alcohol education of any kind, 82% of students reported they were drinking less. However, a year later 84% of those same students reported they were drinking as much as they had at before the alcohol education. They also found that alcohol education was particularly effective for inexperienced drinkers and women. These findings suggest that reminding students how to party smart, through text messages, emails, or ongoing training, should be part of an effective prevention program.

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Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, February 20, 2015

The federal government offers funding for research on campus responses to sexual assaults and an open letter against proposed state laws that would legislate higher education responses to sexual violence.

$1.5 Million for Research on Sexual Assault Responses

We’ve featured numerous articles in this space on the need for more information about campus sexual assault and what does and doesn’t work when trying to prevent it. Apparently the United States Department of Justice agrees, because the National Institute of Justice has issued a call for proposals for studies that will investigate different methods of responding to sexual assault on college campuses. They are offering $1.5 million in funding for research into how schools handle campus sexual assault cases. With numerous schools trying a wide variety of methods to address the issue, such additional data is sorely needed.

Educators Call on Legislators to Vote “No” on Sexual Assault Bills

This week numerous student affairs associations and victim’s advocates groups sent an open letter to all “Elected Leaders of the 50 United States,” urging them to vote down proposed state legislation that would require school officials to refer all reports of sexual violence to law enforcement, as well as bills providing enhanced legal rights to the accused, but not to victim/survivors, such as legal representation at conduct hearings, judicial review of decisions made in institutional proceedings, and recovery of money damages if the court rules in favor of the accused student.  This approach, it is argued, “ignores the balance set by the U.S. Supreme Court regarding the scope of accused students’ due process rights.” The letter also points out that mandatory reporting laws for sexual assault complaints conflict with federal laws that require schools to give victims the option not to report their sexual assault to local police. They also argue that such requirements could have a chilling effect on reports of sexual assault to school officials by victim/survivors who don’t want the police involved. The letter is signed by higher education professional organizations, state coalitions working to combat sexual violence, and national women’s and victims’ rights organizations, including NASPA, Know Your IX, and the Victim Rights Law Center.

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No Shades of Grey When It Comes to Consent
Posted by On Wednesday, February 18, 2015

50_shades_of_blue-01-0150 Shades of Grey,the film adaptation of the first novel in author E.L. James’s best-selling trilogy, was released last weekend to what was widely expected to be a record-breaking box office gross. The movie grossed an estimated $81.7 million dollars through Sunday, making it the second biggest February debut ever, according to the LA Times. While the book series alone has already proven itself to be something of a cultural phenomenon, the release of the film and proportional increase in publicity for the story told therein present an opportunity to start discussions about healthy relationships and consent on your campus.

In fact the film has already sparked controversy over the way it presents issues of consent. On the one hand, much of the plot revolves around a written contract consenting to certain BDSM sex acts the titular Christian Grey wants protagonist Anastasia Steele to sign. That explicit written consent could be taken as an example of the sort of clear, enthusiastic consent students must strive for before engaging in sex. On the other hand, the book often portrays Ana as being less-than-enthusiastic about some of the BDSM sex she has with Christian. The tension between those two plot points (nicely explored in this article from The Atlantic) could be a good jumping off point for a discussion about what’s needed to obtain true consent at each stage of intimacy.

Similarly the relationship between the two romantic leads, which has been described as abusive by critics of the films and books, could be a good introduction to a discussion about the elements of a healthy relationship and the warning signs of an abusive one. Or (SPOILER) the revelation of the abuse Christian Grey suffered as a minor could be an introduction to a conversation regarding the depiction of male victim/survivors in popular culture and the often-overlooked existence of sexual violence perpetrated against men. Even if students haven’t seen or read 50 Shades (full disclosure: this author has not), the story and the sex and relationship it depicts could be a topical entry point to important discussions about communication and mutual respect.

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Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, February 13, 2015

A new study suggests disturbing trends in the frequency of sexual assault reporting, what Canada could learn from American sexual assault laws, and what American colleges could learn from the military academies.

Do Schools Report More Assaults When They’re Being Investigated?

A study published in Psychology, Public Policy, and Law found that schools being audited by the Department of Education saw an average rise of 44% in the number of reported sexual assaults. More worrisome, however, is what happened after the audit ended—the average school went back to the pre-audit number of reports. One possibility is that schools over report assaults while being audited out of an overabundance of caution. Another uglier explanation, favored by the researchers, is that schools under report violence when they think they can get away with it. In any case, the New York Times article points out that climate surveys, a key aspect of the proposed Campus Accountability and Safety Act, could result in more accurate, consistent information.

What Could Canada Learn from America’s Higher Education Laws?

While The New York Times calls for passage of the Campus Accountability and Safety Act, which would amend the Clery Act, Canadian news outlet CBC is pointing to that 1990 law as an example of the sort of legislation needed to address campus sexual violence in their country. While observers in this country often decry what they see as slow or inadequate responses to sexual assault cases on college campuses, CBC points to cases in which students used the Clery Act to force schools to respond to rape and other violence on campus in a relatively timely manner as evidence that similar legislation is needed in Canada, where a lack of such laws at the national level leads to an inconsistent “patchwork” approach.

What Can Colleges Learn from Military Academies?

Just as Canada may have something to learn from the United States, American colleges might take a page out of the military service academy’s book when it comes to sexual assault prevention. The U.S. Naval Academy, Air Force Academy, and West Point have been under scrutiny for their handling of sexual assault cases for some time, as has the military as a whole. As a result, they have implemented more extensive anti-violence programs than many liberal arts universities. For example, at Annapolis, students are required to participate in training during all four years of their education. The program is further distinguished from other higher education training by the fact that current students lead lessons and discussions. That approach is already being considered by Dartmouth College as a potential model for their own anti-sexual violence training programs. It is also worth noting that both Senators Claire McCaskill and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who have worked on reforms to improve how the military handles sexual assault, are now working together to pass the Campus Accountability and Safety Act.

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Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, January 30, 2015

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

The Hunting Ground

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

ASK Aids DC Victim/Survivors

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

Male Survivors

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

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