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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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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Yearly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, January 2, 2015

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

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

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

A Checklist for Title IX Employee Training

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

2 Minutes Will Change How Your Students Think About Consent

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

The Campus Accountability and Safety Act

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

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

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

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

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

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Free Workshop on Consent
Posted by On Thursday, August 14, 2014

We’re excited to release today a consent workshop developed by our friends at the University of San Francisco’s Division of Student Life.

The workshop would be a helpful addition to any orientation program or a stand-alone refresher course for later in the year. It covers the definition of consent and gives some important statistics about sexual assault and intimacy in the campus community. It also gives students the opportunity to practice communication skills related to asking, giving, and denying consent.

Here are the downloads:

Although this workshop was developed for women, it can easily be adapted for students of any gender. In fact, we hope schools will tailor these resources to fit their unique needs and we encourage you to make refinements and improvements as you see fit. We do ask, however, that you share any changes you make to a workshop and make them freely available to the whole student conduct community (that’s why we use a creative commons license).


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2 Minutes Will Change How Your Students Think About Consent
Posted by On Tuesday, July 22, 2014

One of the most important things you can do to change the culture on your campus is to get students talking about consent. Today, we’re excited to publish a video that can do just that, from our award-winning online program Think About It:

Teaching students about consent is an important piece of any sexual violence prevention program.  Indeed, consent was at the center of the White House’s recent PSA announcement — “If she doesn’t consent – or can’t consent – it’s a crime” — and in California, the state legislature is debating proposed legislation that would require colleges to adopt a policy that defines consent to sexual activity as an affirmative, conscious, and voluntary agreement.


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Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, June 27, 2014

California has a large college-aged population due to its singularly massive system of state schools, and more-progressive-than-average state government. Lately, it is also the source of developments in the fight against campus sexual assault that are of interest, and might even have ramifications, nationwide. So, even if you’re not in California, here are three from recent weeks that have sparked interest across the nation and abroad.

Controversy Rages Over SB 967

Back in February we reported on SB 967, the California Senate Bill that would require colleges and universities to define sexual assault as being any sexual activity that occurred without ongoing affirmative consent from both parties. Since its proposal, SB 967 has been passed by the California State Senate and is currently working its way through the Assembly. While the bill has not yet been signed into law, it continues to generate controversy, with thoughtful arguments coming from both sides of the debate.

State Auditor: California Universities Need More Training

California’s state auditor has released a report on the topic of California universities’ response to sexual assault. Their conclusion? That California can and should do more to prevent and respond to sexual assault. Chief among the report’s recommendations is increased training on how to respond to a sexual assault report for the faculty and staff most likely to “be the first point of contact,” including dorm advisors and athletic coaches. It also called for awareness campaigns on California campuses, and for schools to do a better job keeping victim/survivors informed of the results of conduct proceedings against their attackers.

Napolitano Forms UC Task Force on Sexual Assault

The University of California’s ten campuses are governed by a single 26-member Board of Regents. When UC Berkeley was added to the list of schools currently under Title IX investigation by the Department of Education, the whole system came under scrutiny. University of California President Janet Napolitano has announced the creation of a task force to address campus sexual assault, made up of members of the UC Board of Regents, as well as students, advocates, student conduct officers, administrators, and campus law enforcement. The task force will “develop best practices for all areas of sexual violence prevention, investigation, and response systemwide.” The UC system has also implemented policy changes, including an updated definition of consent and more sexual assault training, intended to prevent sexual violence and support victim/survivors.

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Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, June 20, 2014

How are schools across the country responding to the fast growing pressure to address sexual assault on their campuses? This week we bring you stories about a variety of different approaches, some of them successful, some of them less successful, and some of them still in the difficult process of being perfected.

Colleges Need to Worry About Their Students, Not Their Brand

With schools across the country scrambling to respond to the growing public and governmental pressure to address sexual assault, Dana Bulger, founder and co-director of Know Your IX, worries that their responses will focus too much on protecting the school’s image and avoiding litigation, at the expense of students’ well-being and safety. Bulger points to the presentation prepared by a Washington law firm and sponsored by a higher education lobbying group in response to Senator McCaskill’s sexual assault survey sent to about 350 colleges. The presentation characterizes the survey as “fodder for additional investigation” and Congressional investigations as a “‘Wild West’ without real rules,” which Bulger believes leads schools tofocus too much on the question of “What will play well on TV?” Hopefully most schools prioritize students over their brand, but Bulger’s article is a reminder of the importance of choosing a prevention program that can effect real change on campus.

How Should a College Define Consent?

One of the trickiest aspects of efforts to adequately address sexual assault is the question of how schools’ sexual assault policies should define consent. Many schools are shifting from a “No means no” model to one based on the more affirmative “Yes means yes.” In other words, school policies are beginning to recognize that consent is not just about respecting active rejection of sexual advances. It’s also about actively seeking and giving explicit permission for sexual activity. Of course, the question remains of how to define “Yes.” Some schools, like Antioch College, are attempting to remove any ambiguity by requiring “clear and enthusiastic” verbal agreements to sex: “Can I do X?” responded to with “Yes.” Others are attempting to leave room for the diversity of human communication, though naturally leaving room for nonverbal communication leads to difficult-to-parse ambiguities. In any case, it seems certain that the issue is not one that will be resolved without a great deal of thought and discussion.

Improv Against Sexual Assault

In order to encourage students and others to think through such issues themselves, schools and other organizations, including the United States military, have turned to a novel teaching tool: the improv company Catharsis Productions and their show Sex Signals. Created in 1999 by Christian Murphy and Dr. Gail Stern, a professional performer and rape crisis counselor/standup comedian, Sex Signals depicts scenes such as a man attempting to pick up a woman in a bar and a sexual assault scenario in order to engage their audience in a discussion about consent. The audience is given “Stop” signs so that they can weigh in on when consent has and has not been given, and the performers ask those in attendance tough, thought-provoking questions about the scenarios being played out. What should these people do? Was this a rape? Who is at fault? Why? This creative approach to teaching consent seems to be getting results. When Sex Signals first started showing on college campuses in 2000, it was performed on eight campuses. This year, it will be performed at more than 2,500. But, as Catharsis employees point out, Sex Signals is just one part of changing the culture to motivate bystanders to do something when the notice someone is in a risky situation.

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Why the Semantics of Rape Matter
Posted by On Thursday, October 31, 2013

In December of 2011, the FBI amended its definition of rape from “the carnal knowledge of a female, forcibly and against her will,” to “Penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.” Phrases like “carnal knowledge” and the insistence that rape victims must be female might suggest the outdated definition’s antiquity—in fact, it had stood since 1927.

How rape is defined is an issue with consequences that go beyond the merely semantic. Consider, for example, this recent post on the gulf between the prevalence of sexual assaults as reported by researchers like Mary Koss (who found that 1 in 4 women are the victims of rape or attempted rape before leaving college) and as reported by the FBI, which, in 2012, reported 26.7 forcible rapes per 100,000 inhabitants. The discrepancy can be attributed, at least in part, to how each study defined terms like “rape” and “sexual assault.”

The FBI’s new definition will apply to how it collects and reports statistics like the ones quoted above—those regarding the incidence of rape. According to Attorney General Eric Holder, “This new, more inclusive definition will provide us with a more accurate understanding of the scope and volume of these crimes.” Indeed, an emphasis on penile-vaginal penetration and the use of force limits what acts are counted as rape. With that in mind, it is particularly alarming to realize that for 84 years the FBI was using a definition of rape that didn’t include date rape or rape involving a male victim, perpetuating the myth that rape is only committed by strangers who jump out of the bushes.

The real-world consequences of how rape is defined make the history of the word itself both significant and instructive. Our English word “rape” is derived from the Latin raptus or rapere.  Its first appearance in British law refers not to any sort of sexual assault, but instead to violent theft of property. That linguistic connection is no coincidence. In the 19th century restitution for a rape resulting in pregnancy was paid not to the victim but to her father, and the rape of a woman by her husband was not recognized as a crime until the latter half of the 20th century. The conceptualization of rape as an attack on a woman, instead of the appropriation of the commodity that is her chastity, is a shift that has taken too long to come.

Today, a long-overdue shift in the way we define and conceive of rape is occurring, evidenced by the FBI’s updated definition. The FBI’s old definition bears no small resemblance to the English common law definition of rape: “carnal knowledge of a woman, forcibly and against her will.”  Matthew Lyon, writing for the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology,parses this definition into three elements: “intercourse, force, and lack of consent.” Now that women are widely viewed as people instead of property, the most important change in the way we define rape today is the shifting emphasis from the second element of that ancient definition, force, to the third, lack of consent.

That shift is obvious in the new FBI definition, which notably makes no reference to force.  It also has important legal consequences.At one time many states required rape victims to prove a certain degree of physical resistance beyond a reasonable doubt in order to secure a conviction—so as to prove that force was involved in the sexual assault.  Thanks to rape’s shifting definition, many states have loosened or, in some cases, completely removed the requirement for “rigid resistance” on the part of the victim—a positive outcome, given recent research suggesting that for many sexual assault victims, physical resistance of any kind becomes physically impossible once the assault is initiated.

Similarly, thanks to the new found emphasis on consent (or rather the lack thereof) as opposed to force, certain states have begun to define the post-penetration continuation of intercourse after consent has been withdrawn as rape. Previously, it was widely held that once a woman gave consent and penetration had occurred, there was, at least legally, no turning back. Emphasizing consent over force, however, leads logically to a different conclusion. Consent can be withdrawn at any time and once it has continued intercourse becomes rape.

The blunders of insensitive politicians have brought notoriety and national attention to the issue. In 2008, Tennessee Senator Douglas Henry declared that rape today “is not what rape was.” He elaborated, saying that, “Rape, when I was learning these things, was the violation of a chaste woman, against her will, by some party not her spouse.” In an even more infamous incident, former Rep. Todd Akin claimed last year that, “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” Such gaffes point to the suspicion with which many still view a definition of rape based on lack of consent as opposed to the use of force. That such gaffes are being made by people who hold positions of significant power points to what is at stake in this ongoing debate.

In fact, as recently as 2011, the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, which, as its name might suggest, would have banned federal subsidization of abortions, made exception specifically for cases of “forcible rape.” The distinction raised an outcry from women’s group, who pointed out that such language could exclude victims of date rape or statutory rape. “Forcible” was eventually removed from the bill, although it still failed to pass the Senate.

A common refrain of activists opposed to that particular qualification was that “rape is rape.” However, even as rape’s meaning has shifted to focus on a lack of consent, a whole host of qualifiers has sprung up, often to make the distinction between rape that involves force and rape that doesn’t.  Date, statutory, legitimate, forcible, gray, the list goes on and on. The question is whether those qualifiers clarify, or merely diminish? To which one might answer that the definition of “rape” is not merely semantic for the victims.

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CampusClarity Wins Gold at the Annual Stevie Awards
Posted by On Friday, September 20, 2013

Think About It won a Gold Stevie Award for Best Training Site at the 11th Annual American Business Awards. Think About It is CampusClarity’s online training program on sexual violence and substance abuse for undergraduates and a compliance resource for college and university administrators.

The Stevies, considered the Oscars of the business world, are open to all U.S.-based organizations. With over 3,200 entries, this year’s awards were a record-breaking size. More than 320 executives from across the country judged the entries.

The award-winning Think About It addresses campus sexual violence and substance abuse through a harm-reduction model that also helps schools comply with the Campus SaVE Act and Title IX.

The program is a collaboration between CampusClarity, a service of LawRoom, and the University of San Francisco’s Division of Student Life. Instructional designers, student affairs administators, and lawyers worked alongside students to develop an effective course that would speak to students’ college experiences.

Think About It includes bystander intervention training, customizable campus policies and resources, state specific laws on sexual and domestic violence, social norming exercises, a comprehensive discussion of consent, and in-depth reports on student attitudes and behaviors.

More than thirty-five colleges and universities nationwide use Think About It to train their students.

Accepting the gold for Think About It were Jeremy Beckman, Chief Instructional Designer at LawRoom, and Peter Novak, Vice Provost for Student Life at the University of San Francisco.

“It means a great deal,” Novak said about the award. “It allows us to further collaborate on prospective projects and to really be of service to university students across the country.”

LawRoom has been a leader in employment law compliance and training since it began in 1994. It has helped private and public companies, non-profits, and government entities comply with employment regulations. This year marked the first time the company participated in the American Business Awards or Stevies.

In addition to winning gold for Think About It, LawRoom also took home silver for its online sexual-harassment training, Lenses

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