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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 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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Are Climate Surveys Part of Title IX/Clery Act Compliance?
Posted by On Wednesday, September 9, 2015

On April 29, 2014, the White House Task Force issued its “Not Alone” report with an overview of how to plan and conduct a campus sexual assault climate survey, as well as a sample survey based on best practices. The report urges “schools to show they’re serious about the problem by conducting the survey next year.”

In a May 2015 article, “Climate Surveys Are Coming,” readers were told, “The task force’s suggestion that schools conduct climate surveys is one of several signals that surveys soon will be required as part of a Title IX/Clery Act compliance program.”

On the same day that the White House report came out, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights issued the guidance document, “Questions & Answers on Title IX and Sexual Violence,” which listed conducting climate surveys as one of the ways to “limit the effects of the alleged sexual violence and prevent its recurrence,” if a victim requests confidentiality and does not want formal action taken against the alleged perpetrator.

Other signals that campus climate surveys soon may be mandated include OCR agreements resulting from Title IX investigations and compliance reviews that require schools to conduct surveys, including: Michigan State University, Ohio State University, University of Montana, Southern Methodist University, Lehigh University, Harvard Law School, Lyon College, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, University of Dayton, Cedarville University, Glenville State College, Kentucky Wesleyan College, State University of New York, and Rockford University.

Instead of waiting for federal laws or Title IX guidance that mandate climate surveys, some states have already enacted laws requiring them:

  • Maryland House Bill 571 requires institutions of higher education to “DEVELOP AN APPROPRIATE SEXUAL ASSAULT CAMPUS CLIMATE SURVEY, USING NATIONALLY RECOGNIZED BEST PRACTICES FOR RESEARCH AND CLIMATE SURVEYS,” and submit to the Maryland Higher Education Commission on or before June 1, 2016 (and every two years thereafter), a report aggregating the data collected by the survey, including:
        1. Types of misconduct
        2. Outcome of each complaint
        3. Disciplinary actions taken by institutions
        4. Accommodations made to students
        5. Number of reports involving alleged nonstudent perpetrators
  • The New YorkEnough is Enough” law signed on July 7, 2015, requires all New York colleges and universities to conduct campus climate surveys at least every other year. The survey requirement goes into effect on July 7, 2016.
  • The State of Washington passed a new law (SSB 5518.SL), requiring state universities, the regional universities, The Evergreen State College, the community colleges, and the technical colleges to conduct a campus climate survey and report their findings to the governor and legislature by December 31, 2016.
  • Louisiana passed a new law (SB 255) which provides, “When funding is made available, each public postsecondary education institution shall administer an annual, anonymous sexual assault climate survey to its students.”
  • In addition, the Massachusetts legislature is considering Bill S. 650, which would create a task force to develop a sexual assault climate survey to be administered by colleges and universities selected by the task force.

Meanwhile, Boston University launched a student survey in March 2015 (see FAQs about BU’s survey) and, while not required by law, the University of California conducted a campus climate survey on its campuses in Spring 2013 (see results and FAQs). Previously, we’ve reported on published data from other climate surveys, what experts say, and how to get started.

With Congress back in session, the Campus Accountability and Safety Act may have gained some momentum from the July 29th hearing before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions. Testimony received at that hearing included strong support from the Association of American Universities for campus climate surveys, pointing out that it is important that schools directly or indirectly control survey administration so that it addresses the unique circumstances of individual campuses.

We will continue to watch this closely as the patchwork quilt of climate survey requirements continues to unfold. We will also be hosting a webinar on Tuesday, October 13th with Peter Novak from University of San Francisco and Jessica Ladd from Sexual Health Innovations about climate surveys and data.  Follow our twitter account @CampusClarity for the link to register as the date gets closer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Saturday, June 20, 2015

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

Poll Finds 1 in 5 College Women Say They Were Violated

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

10 Questions to Ask when Choosing a School

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

What Parents Can Do to Help Prevent Sexual Assault

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

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Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, June 12, 2015

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

New Study Illustrates the Need for Interactive Training

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

Domestic Violence, Colleges, and Title IX

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

Long OCR Investigations Take a Toll on Complainants

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

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Emerging Practices: Trigger Warnings
Posted by On Friday, June 5, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, March 27, 2015

For this week’s roundup we have wearable technology that could make it easier for students to party smart and look out for one another, a profile of an activist who leveraged the Internet and social media to make campuses safer for women, and the creators of The Hunting Ground on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

Party Smart Wearables

Could wearables (wearable technology a la Apple’s soon-to-be-released Apple Watch) help keep students safe (or at least safer) when they drink? A team of students from the University of Washington think the answer is yes, and to prove it they’ve conceived of a smart bracelet that could monitor BAC and dehydration when students go out. The Vive, which currently exists only as an idea, not a working prototype, would alert students to their level of intoxication, check in periodically to make sure students were in control, and alert friends when the wearer became too drunk to respond to those check-ins. There’s also a social element in the form of a feature that would allow Vive users to connect with each other by touching their bracelets. Whether the Vive comes to fruition or not, the concept is a useful example of the power of technology to enable students to party more carefully and to take care of their friends.

Using the Web and Social Media to Fight Sexual Assault

While the Vive is an example of a nascent idea for potential new technology , this profile of activist Wagatwe Wanjuki, published as part of MSNBC’s series for Women’s History Month, demonstrates the power of (relatively) familiar and established technologies: social media and the Internet. The profile and accompanying interview highlight Wanjuki’s use of social media and the web, starting with her anonymous blog which led to the creation and dissemination of an online petition that precipitated a Department of Education civil rights investigation of her alma mater, Tufts University. Wanjuki also created the nationally-trending hashtag #SurvivorPrivilege in response to columnist George Will’s unfortunate claim that surviving an assault granted “a coveted status that confers privileges.” In the piece, she talks about using the Internet to connect with other activists and victim/survivors and its power as “a great amplifier of the work.”

The Hunting Ground, Rape Myths, and the Daily Show

If you follow this blog you’ll already have heard quite a bit about The Hunting Ground, the new documentary that focuses on campus rape and the all-too-often inadequate response to it. This interview with the film’s director, Kirby Dick, and producer, Amy Zeiring, is well worth a watch not only for the insightful humor from host Jon Stewart but also for Zeiring’s succinct refutation of unfortunately prevalent and damaging myths about false rape reports.

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Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, March 13, 2015

An interview with the director of new documentary The Hunting Ground, the Clery act turns 25, and the OCR reveals it is investigating four more schools—pushing the total over 100.

The Hunting Ground Director on Courageous Survivors and the Birth of the Film

An interview with Director Kirby Dick about his latest documentary, The Hunting Ground, offers a disturbing portrait of the prevalence of sexual violence on college campuses as he describes “hearing the same story over and over” when interviewing victim/survivors about their assault, sexual predators, and the institution’s response. This interview with Dick in the National Post offers sobering insight into the process of the film’s creation. Dick talks about how the conversation sparked by campus screenings of his previous film, The Invisible War, which dealt with sexual assault in the military, led him and producer Amy Zeiring to make a documentary about the same crime in the context of higher education. During Q&As after showing The Invisible War, students quickly turned the discussion to campus sexual assault and then he started getting emails and letters asking him to “please make a film.” Dick says it’s exciting to see the courage of college-aged advocates who “take on their institutions…to create this national debate,” but creating safe campus environments “should be on everyone.”

Clery Act Turns 25

Today marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Clery Act, named in memory of Jeanne Clery, a Lehigh freshman who was sexually assaulted and murdered in her dorm. The law requires colleges and universities to disclose reports of crimes committed on and near campus. Earlier this month marked the second anniversary of the Campus SaVE Act  that expanded higher education institutions’ crime reporting requirements to include relationship violence, stalking, and hate crimes based on gender identity and national origin.   In addition, the Campus SaVE Act requires colleges and universities to develop comprehensive prevention programs to train students and employees how to recognize, report, respond to, and prevent campus sexual violence.

OCR Now Investigating Over 100 Schools

Last week we reported that Grinnell College has requested an OCR investigation of their own sexual assault investigation procedures. This week we have a story that makes it clear that if that request is granted, Grinnell will be far from alone. In fact, as of this month, the Office for Civil Rights is investigating over a hundred schools for possible non-compliance with Title IX and the Clery act, an all-time high. When the OCR first released the list of schools under investigation last April there were fifty-five schools under investigation.

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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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