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Selling Safety: The Rise of Sexual Assault Prevention Products
Posted by On Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Since the 1990s, studies have found that roughly 1 in 5 women will experience some form of sexual assault while in college. Recent results from campus climate surveys have bolstered these numbers. In the past several years, people have been trying to fight this epidemic through many strategies ranging from increased legislation to prevention training.

In addition, companies have recently begun offering other novel solutions. Some are manufacturing wearable gadgets that alert authorities and select emergency contacts when an attack is about to occur. A group of college students is developing a nail polish that changes colors when dipped into a drink that’s been laced with certain date-rape drugs. Entrepreneurs are producing an array of fashionable jewelry that emits a loud alarm when the user pushes a button.

Below, you will find a list of some of the sexual assault prevention products on the market and how they work, followed by an analysis, criticisms, and common misconceptions about sexual assault.

iBall Andi Uddaan: This is a cellular device with a built-in “SOS” button that sends an alert message and phone call to five emergency contacts chosen by the user, posts a Facebook status with a pre-written message asking for help and gives the user’s GPS location (only if connected to the Internet), and emits a loud siren sound to ward off potential attackers.

Athena: Manufactured by Roar for Good, this transformable accessory can be worn as necklace pendant or clip onto clothing, a belt, or purse. The Athena is a “coin-sized personal safety alarm” and comes with an app that allows the wearer to customize their preferences. The device has a button that can sound an alarm “louder than a freight train” while sending a text message with the user’s location to a list of emergency contacts chosen by the user. If the button is held for three seconds longer, the alarm stays silent, but messages are still sent as long as an Internet connection is established. A portion of the company’s proceeds goes to educational programs.

Safelet: A bracelet that sends out alerts with the wearer’s location to the police and emergency contacts (known as “Guardians”) selected by the wearer—this happens when two buttons are pressed simultaneously. Once activated, the device will also call the police and activate the wearer’s cellular microphone, transmitting the sounds coming from the microphone to the police. The wearer can add contacts and security preferences through the Safelet app. The Safelet device operates by using a “secure Bluetooth Low Energy connection.”

First Sign: A hair clip with “built-in gyroscope and accelerometer to detect head impacts indicative of physical assault.” When pressed, the clip turns on a microphone that calls the police while recording the incident. The First Sign clip also emits an audible message when pressed in order to “deter the attacker.” If pressed accidentally, the wearer can access the First Sign app on their phone within 15 seconds to deactivate the false alarm. The First Sign clip uses Bluetooth and an Internet connection must be established in order for the device to work.

Cuff: This is a smart device that can be inserted into the manufacturer’s line of jewelry/accessories (such as a sport band, metal necklaces and bracelets, leather bracelets, and key chains). The device uses a phone app that allows the wearer to set their emergency contacts, and when activated, the Cuff sends the user’s emergency contacts a message. The Cuff device can be paired with any of their jewelry line products to change the look. However, the wearer can’t be more than 20-30 feet from their phone for the device to fully work, and their phone must be connected to the Internet.

Undercover Colors: A nail polish line that detects date rape drugs such as Rohypnol, Ketamine, Ecstasy, and other “roofies” by changing colors when a finger is dipped into a drink to “discreetly” stir. This method can alert the wearer of a spiked drink before they consume it.

It might be reassuring to know that more than pepper spray, mace, rape whistles, and tasers can be used to protect victims before, during, and after an assault. However, the very idea that such a number of up-and-coming devices are necessary is concerning in itself. While the thought of having an aid in sexual assault prevention is undoubtedly a good one, the need for these items is telling of how much of an issue sexual assault has become.

Though prevention gadgets are steps in a good direction, they are not solutions to stopping the act that calls for their existence. And for all the good these products attempt to achieve, they come with a fair amount of criticism:

  • Products such as the aforementioned and others put the burden of rape prevention on the potential victim, not the perpetrators. It is the victims who are going out of their way to obtain and use these products—and while it is a safe, smart thing to ensure one’s safety, perhaps education, accountability, prosecution, and practicing consensual sexual activity should take the forefront.
  • These products may reinforce myths about what sexual assault looks like—for example, a woman who was drugged by a stranger in a bar or was attacked while walking alone at night. While these kind of attacks do happen, research suggests that the vast majority of sexual assaults at college are acquaintance assaults (this is also true for assaults that occur outside of college).
  • Marketing these products to women leaves out male victims. According to a Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation survey that polled college students living on or near campus, “twenty percent of women and 5 percent of men reported being sexually assaulted either by physical force or while incapacitated.” This survey and many others reveal that both men and women experience sexual assault.
  • These products are intended to be used before, during, or after a sexual assault has occurred—they do not guarantee that the act will be stopped, that the victim will be safe, or that the attacker will be caught.
  • While date-rape drugs such as roofies are sometimes used to facilitate sexual assault, most often, alcohol is the number one date rape drug.
  • Many of these devices also present some practical challenges: they assume the user already has a smartphone, and many of the devices require that a free mobile app be downloaded and connected to the product itself; for the fashion fashion/jewelry pieces, an accessory cover would be needed to better conceal the product; an Internet connection must also be established in order for the devices to correctly work.

Critics’ assertions that these devices misrepresent the nature of sexual assault and unfairly shift the burden to victims show that these devices cannot solve the problem without educational initiatives providing students the proper context.

Fortunately, many colleges, universities, and now high schools in select states require students to take sexual assault prevention programs or classes. With the well of information, definitions, statistics, and scenarios in these courses, the goal is to educate students about consent and sexual assault, leading to better decision-making and ultimately a safer environment.

These products can save lives, but they need to paired with the proper education and training. The goal is to prevent sexual assault, not just avoid it.

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Campus Climate Surveys: Data Collection as Prevention & Risk-Reduction
Posted by On Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Sexual Assault Campus Climate Surveys are a hot topic for student affairs administrators around the country. Some schools have administered internal climate surveys, some have utilized prepared climate surveys from the AAU or HEDS, and others are in the process of developing and implementing climate surveys. While climate surveys are not yet federally required (although some states are now mandating them and the OCR has required them of schools under investigation), the government has urged schools to adequately assess the climate on their campuses through climate surveys.

At CampusClarity, we do more than just help reach Title IX & Campus SaVE compliance. We strive to eliminate sexual and dating violence on college campuses and beyond. Because climate surveys are considered a best practice for gauging campus climate, we have developed a tool that will help campus administrators tackle the huge task of building climate surveys.

Over the past few months, our product development team has dedicated countless hours to learning from others, developing best practices, and engineering a platform that will allow administrators to simply and swiftly build campus climate surveys. Our platform has many unique features made specifically for campus climate surveys, such as built in content/trigger warnings, a landing page for IRB approval, and default settings that will help increase completion rates. Perhaps most useful is that all data collected will go into the same LMS with data from Think About It and our other courses. Data can be cross tabulated by demographic, and will be delivered with sample size protection as to not out students with underrepresented identities.

We partnered with Callisto, a sexual assault reporting tool for colleges, to host a webinar revealing our climate survey platform. Callisto allows schools to collect data all year round about incidence and prevalence of sexual assault. When partnered with climate surveys, Callisto can provide administrators the information they need to provide prevention, risk reduction, and awareness education on campus. View the below webinar to learn more about climate survey best practices, Callisto, and CampusClarity’s new product.

Climate Survey Webinar

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

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

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

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

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

  • Results confirmed the widely cited statistic that “one in five” women will experience sexual assault while at college.
  • Transgender, Genderqueer, and Gender Nonconforming students are more likely to experience sexual assault or misconduct across all categories.
  • About one quarter of students reported feeling very or extremely knowledgeable about where to report sexual assault.
  • More than 75% of sexual assault cases were never reported using official systems of reporting.
  • Males are more optimistic than females that someone who reports a sexual assault will be supported by their peers.
  • The most common reason for not reporting sexual assault was that it was “not considered serious enough,” with high numbers also in feeling “embarrassed or ashamed” and “did not think anything would be done.”
  • Over a quarter of senior females reported experiencing sexual contact by force or incapacitation since entering college.

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

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

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

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

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

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

To view the fact-sheet summary, go here.

 

 

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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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Webinar: Involving Parents in Sexual Assault Prevention
Posted by On Wednesday, July 22, 2015

We hosted a fantastic webinar today with University of San Francisco’s Dr. Barbara Thomas, Director of Counseling and Psychological Services and Dr. Peter Novak, Vice Provost of Student Life.  Dr. Thomas and Dr. Novak shared insights around engaging parents in sexual assault prevention and alcohol/drug use risk reduction. You can view the whole webinar below.

University of San Francisco aims to engage parents in prevention work from when they first consider USF as an option for their child’s education. This includes talking about sexual assault and on campus education efforts, including Think About It, at admissions events. Dr. Novak and Dr. Thomas also encouraged schools to use their Annual Security Report as a resource at admissions events and when informing parents of the school’s programming. From their experience, common questions that parents want to know include “Is your school under investigation for Title IX violations?”, “What are your prevention programs and are they required?”, and “How many reports of sexual assault do you receive every year?”.  These questions are playing a role in how students and their families make decisions about college, and so it is important to be proactive by having effective programming and transparent communication around sexual assault and alcohol/drug use on their campus.

Resources referenced during the webinar include;

We hope to continue the conversation about and share resources on involving parents in prevention efforts.

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Hazing Prevention [Free Webinar]
Posted by On Wednesday, June 24, 2015

This Thursday we will be hosting a webinar with Dr. Gentry McCreary (register here) at 11 am PT / 2 pm ET. Dr. McCreary is a well-known expert on hazing prevention and the CEO of Dyad Strategies. A scholar and practitioner, he brings a valuable blend of hands on work experience and rigorous research to the problem of hazing on college campuses. During this 45-minute webinar, Dr. McCreary will examine the psychology of hazing and strategies that institutional leaders can take to reduce the prevalence of hazing on campus.

Dr. McCreary will discuss why students engage in hazing practices, factors that contribute to or reduce campus hazing culture, and both direct and indirect intervention strategies aimed at addressing hazing at the individual, organizational, and community levels.

If you’re interested in joining the conversation, please register for the event (space is limited).

[UPDATE 8/28/2015] The webinar is now available online: Hazing Prevention Webinar.

The Problem

As several recent high-profile incidents have shown, hazing remains a widespread problem on campuses across the country. In one of the few national studies of hazing, professors Elizabeth Allan and Mary Madden found that over half of students involved in clubs, teams, and organizations experience hazing, defined as “any activity expected of someone joining or participating in a group that humiliates, degrades, abuses, or endangers them regardless of a person’s willingness to participate.”

While almost three-fourths of members of athletic teams or a social fraternity or sorority reported being hazed, a range of organizations and groups haze, according to Allan and Madden. For instance, 64% of students who participated in a club sport, 56% of students who participated in a performing arts organizations, and 28% of students who participated in an academic club experienced at least one hazing behavior. Nor is hazing a higher education phenomenon. Allan and Madden found that 47% of students reported experiencing hazing before ever getting to college.

Hazing encompasses a broad swath of harmful behaviors, including forcing pledges or initiates to participate in heavy drinking, sleep deprivation, public chanting or singing, and even physical abuse. Hazing can cause psychological or physical trauma with potentially fatal consequences.

Indeed, as the recent controversy over one group’s racist chant illustrate, hazing rituals can also perpetuate harmful myths and stereotypes with consequences far beyond the organization itself.

Allan and Madden found, however, that “more students perceive positive rather than negative outcomes of hazing.” In fact, 90% of students who have been hazed don’t label it as such, and in 95% of cases where students recognized that they experienced hazing, they didn’t report.

While many students Allan and Madden interviewed justified hazing by arguing that it strengthened group unity, less than a third of students in their survey reported feeling more like a part of the group as a positive result of hazing, suggesting a disconnect between students’ perceptions of and their actual experiences with hazing.

These factors all contribute to a problematic hazing culture that has developed escalating concern among researchers and student affairs practitioners.

Cultures of Violence

Hazing does not exist in isolation. The cultures that allow hazing to continue (or even support it) may perpetuate other forms of violence on campuses. In fact, hazing does not hide in the shadows. A quarter of hazing behaviors occurred in “on-campus in a public space,” and a quarter of coaches or organization advisors knew their group was hazing, according to Allan and Madden’s research.

A few weeks ago, we wrote about a presentation at NASPA by Elizabeth Allan and Jane Stapleton. They argued that prevention efforts are too often siloed and that educators need to recognize the potential links between sexual violence and hazing (which often involves sexual violence).

Allan and Stapleton’s work demonstrates the importance of a multi-faceted approach to prevention that seeks to change the entire campus culture, and not just small enclaves. In short, by addressing hazing we can help address sexual violence as well.

Solutions

In the past, educators and prevention experts working with fraternities and sororities around hazing issues have stressed an organization’s values and getting members to act in accordance with those values or principles. Unfortunately, that approach hasn’t borne much fruit. But there are other promising directions.

Dr. McCreary’s research looks at the relationship between hazing prevention and moral development. McCreary points out that an organization’s overt or written values rarely exert a strong influence an individual’s decision to join an organization, which is more often based on the people in the organization or the tacit values expressed through the organization’s day-to-day behaviors. As McCreary writes of his own decision to join a fraternity: “I valued those people, but I didn’t join for values” (AFA Essentials 2014).

Among other approaches, McCreary commends empowering students to develop their own values instead of imposing external values onto them:

If we were truly concerned about student development, we would be creating cognitive dissonance in a way that would lead to a series of crossroads and, eventually, self-authorship. Conversations about how actions reflect values can and should be part of creating that dissonance, but when we impose new external formulas on our students, we are potentially retarding their growth and development. (AFA Essentials 2014)

In his presentation this Thursday, Dr. McCreary will go into greater depth on his research and best practices. We hope you will join us for this fascinating talk by Dr. McCreary. Register here.

[UPDATE 8/28/2015] The webinar is now available online: Hazing Prevention Webinar.

Citation:
McCreary, Gentry. (February 2014). “The Challenge of Values Congruence.” AFA Essentials.

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Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, May 1, 2015

Why prevention efforts need to start as early as high school, the University of California’s response to the California State Auditor’s review and OCR investigations, and Bud Light retracts an ill-considered slogan.

Sexual Violence Starts in High School—Prevention Must Too

According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, 44% of sexual assaults are committed when the victim is not yet 18. This piece in the Huffington Post by writer and activist Soraya Chemaly makes an important point: Clearly sexual assault does not begin in college. Prevention efforts shouldn’t either. Chemaly goes on to outline other alarming statistics about the young ages of both victim/survivors and perpetrators and points to a number of horrific rape cases involving high school-aged victims and perpetrators to make her case that high schools can and must do more to address sexual violence. She also outlines some of the obstacles to that seemingly obvious step, including the lack of available resources and discomfort of having a conversation about these difficult topics with teenagers. Nevertheless, Chemaly stresses beginning prevention as early as possible is crucial not only to protect American high schoolers but also to provide them with the tools they need to protect themselves when they leave home for college.

How the UC System is Starting to Address It’s Sexual Violence Problem

This piece from USA Today follows up on the University of California in the midst of OCR investigations of several of the state’s largest campuses, including UCLA and UC Berkeley, and nearly a year after the California State Auditor released their report on the UC system’s sexual assault practices. The article covers the background of the report and investigations, focusing on the efforts of student activists in filing a Clery Act complaint and Title IX claims against UC Berkeley. It also reports on what the UC system has done to address the inadequacies which led to the investigations and were covered by the CSA report. These changes include mandatory sexual violence prevention training, the hiring of confidential survivor advocates, and a survivor resource specialist. However, university officials and activists alike stress how much more work remains if the UC system is to do all it can to prevent sexual violence and support its victim/survivors.

Bud Light Corrects a Thoughtless Slogan

According to a poorly thought-out slogan featured on new packaging, Bud Light is “the perfect beer for removing ‘no’ from your vocabulary for the night.” It didn’t take long for Reddit and Twitter users to point out what apparently slipped past everyone at Anheuser-Busch: The ugly way that particular slogan recalls the connection between intoxication and sexual assault, and especially the way alcohol can and is used as a weapon by perpetrators against their victims. To the company’s credit, an apology was issued swiftly and the offending slogan won’t be printed again. Still, the whole episode is an important reminder of the need to consider language and how it affects culture and behavior.

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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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“A Leadership Role”: Interview with Peter Novak [Part 3 of 3]
Posted by On Monday, October 6, 2014

In our last installment from CampusClarity’s interview with Peter Novak, he discusses how colleges and universities can take a leadership role in stopping sexual misconduct and substance abuse by setting goals that may at first seem counter-intuitive.

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California’s New Consent Law: Yes Means Yes vs. No Means No
Posted by On Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Once again, California is at the forefront of addressing a difficult societal problem with a controversial new law. In February, State Senators Kevin de Leon and Hannah-Beth Jackson introduced SB 967 into the California Senate. The bill sought to establish a standard of affirmative consent (or “yes means yes”) at colleges and universities across the state.

In their op-ed, Gloria Steinem and Michael Kimmel call the “yes means yes” consent standard in California’s Senate Bill 967 a “welcome game-changer in understanding and preventing sexual assault.” They argue that replacing the “no means no” standard erases the presumption, “Unless one hears an explicit “no,” consent is implied.”

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) says SB 967 “would render a great deal of legal sexual activity into ‘sexual assault’ and imperil the futures of all students across California.” FIRE argues there is “no practical, fair, or consistent way” to determine if the legal requirements for consent were met.

Another op-ed argues the new law is “a victory for some campus feminist activists but an ill-conceived detour for feminism,” because making consent the only consideration ignores the “misogyny, gender inequality, alcohol, race, and class that make up the rape culture on campuses.”

Amid this controversy, on Sunday, September 28, 2014, Governor Jerry Brown signed SB 967, which provides a detailed definition of consent to sexual activity for college students that becomes law on January 1, 2015. The California State University and University of California systems supported the bill and already adopted policies with similar definitions of consent.

Under the new law, postsecondary schools that participate in state student financial aid programs will be required to adopt a policy that defines consent as an “affirmative, conscious, and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity.” Policies also need to define what consent is not:

  • lack of objection or resistance does not mean consent
  • silence does not mean consent
  • consent can be revoked at any time
  • an existing dating relationship or previous sexual relations between the persons involved does not by itself mean consent

The law also provides that being drunk or reckless, or failing to take reasonable steps to get consent, will not excuse someone who mistakenly believed the other person consented to sexual activity. Additionally, the person making sexual advances will be responsible if they knew or should have known that the other person was:

  • asleep or unconscious
  • incapacitated by alcohol or drugs to the point that they did not understand the fact, nature, or extent of the conduct
  • unable to communicate because of a mental or physical condition

In addition to a universal standard for determining consent, SB 967 requires specific adjudication processes that will provide more consistent results across schools, including:

  • applying the preponderance of evidence standard to decide complaints involving sexual misconduct against a student
  • investigating sexual assault complaints that involve drugs or alcohol
  • developing protocol for victim interviews
  • contacting and interviewing the accused
  • identifying and interviewing witnesses
  • responding to stranger and acquaintance sexual assault

For campus officials who investigate and adjudicate complaints involving sexual misconduct, schools must provide comprehensive, trauma-informed training programs. Moreover, retaliation against anyone who participates in an investigation or report of sexual misconduct is prohibited, nor can they be disciplined for student conduct violations, such as underage drinking, unless the violation is “egregious.”

Schools are also required to adopt “detailed and victim-centered policies and protocols regarding sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking involving a student . . ..” These policies need to cover:

  • protecting the confidentiality and privacy of the individuals involved
  • assisting victims by providing information about available on- and off-campus resources to support their recovery and reporting options (law enforcement and confidential reporting)
  • providing information about preserving evidence for potential criminal proceedings

To the extent feasible, schools must enter into agreements or partnerships with on- and off-campus organizations that provide counseling, health services, victim advocacy, and legal assistance for both the victim and the accused.

Finally, the new law requires comprehensive prevention programs to educate students about the institution’s sexual assault policies, including a practical understanding of the affirmative consent standard, and students’ rights and responsibilities under the policy. The prevention program is required to be part of every incoming student’s orientation.

While this law only affects California colleges and universities, schools across the country should take notice since many of its provisions mirror The Campus Accountability and Safety Act (CASA) legislation introduced by Senator Claire McCaskill on July 30, 2014. We’ll be following debates on the CASA bill when Congress reconvenes after the November elections.

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