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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Measuring Sexual Violence
Posted by On Thursday, January 15, 2015

Last month we wrote about what we learned from the Bureau of Justice Statistics new report, “Rape and Sexual Assault Among College-Age Females, 1995-2013.” We noted that the rates reported by the BJS, which were based on the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), differ from other widely cited statistics about the prevalence of rape among college-age women. In this post, we’ll dive deeper into why these numbers are so different.

What Are the Other Reports?

The NCVS is one of three recent surveys that researchers have used to study rape and sexual assault among college students and in the general population.

The other two are:

The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS) 

The Campus Sexual Assault Study (CSA)

Other surveys worth mentioning are the National Violence Against Women Survey and The Sexual Victimization of College Women. Though both studies date to the late 90s, their findings have also been widely cited and can provide useful context and background for anyone who wants to understand this complicated issue.

They Do Different Things

The NISVS, CSA, and NCVS differ in purpose and methodology.

NCVS is a survey about crime. The survey grew out of the realization that many crimes were not reported to police and that a more accurate measure of victimization was needed. Hence, unlike the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting, the NCVS surveys respondents about both reported and unreported crimes.

CSA and NISVS approach rape and sexual assault from a public health perspective. The purpose of the CSA was “To examine the prevalence, nature, and reporting of various types of sexual assault experienced by university students in an effort to inform the development of targeted intervention strategies.” The NISVS’s primary objectives are to measure the prevalence of intimate partner violence and the impact and health consequences of this violence on victims.

They Employ Different Survey Methods

The NCVS follows a group of households over several years, interviewing them every six months. In contrast, the CSA and NISVS are surveys that capture responses from a single point in time. The NCVS asks respondents about events that happened since the last interview, whereas the CSA and NISVS ask about events that occurred during a specified reference period.

The problem in the CSA and NISVS’s approach is that respondents may unintentionally over report the experiences by including events that fell outside the time frame as if they fell within the time frame. According to NCVS, the reporting of traumatic events may be particularly prone to this effect (called telescoping). Thus cross-sectional studies (like the CSA and NISVS) may end up with higher rates than longitudinal studies like the NCVS.

In the NCSV and NISVS, the researchers interview the respondents. This allows them to clarify any confusion around questions but also introduces the possibility that the interviewer might steer or otherwise affect the subject. The CSA, on the other hand, was a web-based survey, which eliminated the influence the interviewer might exert on the respondents but also prevented the respondents from clarifying any confusion they may have had.

They Use Different Definitions

Because the NCVS is a survey about crime, it uses definitions of rape and sexual assault that are “shaped from a criminal justice perspective.” CSA and NISVS use broader definitions of sexual assault that may include incidents that do not rise to the level of a crime. See definitions below (warning: the definitions include explicit language).

The NCVS defines rape as “the unlawful penetration of a person against the will of the victim, with use or threatened use of force, or attempting such an act.” Sexual assault is defined more broadly and generally involves unwanted sexual contact.

The CSA measures rape due to force and incapacitation (that is, when the victim is incapacitated by drugs or alcohol). It also measures unwanted sexual contact.

The NISVS measures five types of sexual violence: rape (including due to incapacitation), sexual coercion (“unwanted vaginal, oral, or anal sexual penetration that occurs after a person is pressured in a nonphysical way”), being made to penetrate someone else, unwanted sexual contact (such as kissing or fondling), and non-contact unwanted sexual experiences (such as flashing or harassment).

They Ask Different Questions

NCVS asks directly about rape, whereas CSA and NISVS both use behavioral cue questions.

For example, the NCVS asks, “has anyone attacked or threatened you in any of these ways…any rape, attempted rape, or other type of sexual attack.” Whereas the NISVS and CSA avoid the terms rape and focus instead on describing events that would qualify as sexual assault or rape, “When you were drunk, high, drugged, or passed out and unable to consent, how many people ever…had vaginal sex with you?”

The way these questions are asked influences how respondents answer. Critics of the NCVS suggest that by asking directly about rape, it fails to measure victims who have experienced rape but may not realize it or may not wish to acknowledge it. Critics of the CSA and NISVS’s questions suggest that they over report sexual assault by using broader and potentially confusing definitions.

They Survey Different People

The CSA only surveys students, and the NISVS does not ask respondents whether or not they are students. Thus, NCSV is the only one of the three surveys that allows researchers to reliably compare rates between students and non-students.

It should also be noted that while both the NCVS and NISVS survey the general population, the CSA only surveyed undergraduate students at two large public universities (one in the South and one in the Midwest).

Interested in More Information?

The National Crime Victimization Survey offers its own discussion of why rates of sexual violence vary between different surveys. We recommend that you read their analysis.


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Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, December 12, 2014

For this week’s roundup we bring you the latest news from the Senate and the Department of Justice’s report on sexual assault.

Senate Hearings on Campus Sexual Assault

On Tuesday the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on crime met to discuss campus sexual assault. Senators expressed concern with the way campus sexual assaults are handled by universities and colleges, with several lawmakers questioning the role of the police, or lack thereof, in investigating assaults. Additionally, both Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Sen. Claire McCaskill expressed concerns about how the fall-out from Rolling Stone’s now-controversial article on an alleged gang rape at UVA  might affect efforts to fight campus sexual assault at UVA and other schools. Senator Gillibrand said, “And I hope it will not discourage other students from coming forward because it is the students themselves all across the country who are demanding reform and their voices are vital in this debate. And I refuse to let this story become an excuse for Congress to do nothing and accept a broken system.”

Senate Will Move Forward with Campus Sexual Assault Bill in the New Year

One thing the Republican take-over of the Senate will not affect in the new year is Senate plans for bills to combat college sexual assault. Indeed, Republican co-sponsor of the Campus Accountability and Safety Act Chuck Grassley is set to become the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee when Senate Republicans take control of the Senate next year. Said Grassley, “Obviously, this is something we are going to deal with or I wouldn’t be putting my name on a bill. I would think it’s a major issue.”  As we’ve previously reported, the CASA legislation would increase support and resources for victims and survivors, including the creation of a new confidential advisor position at all colleges and universities.

The DOJ Report on Sexual Assault

The Department of Justice has released a report on sexual assault and rape among college-aged females. Their findings are sobering, as might be expected. According to the report, “Fewer than one in five female student and non-student victims of rape and sexual assault received assistance from a victim services agency,” a finding that reinforces the need for a victim-centered approach . The DOJ also found that college-aged women were more likely to experience rape and sexual assault than any other age group, that women not in school were more likely to be assaulted than their peers in college, and that young women in school were less likely to report their assault to law enforcement.

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McCaskill Survey Produces Disturbing Results
Posted by On Thursday, July 10, 2014
McCaskill Survey Produces Disturbing Results

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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