Assault Prevention on Your Campus

This week, a report on campus rape compiled by NPR in collaboration with journalists at the Center for Public Integrity concluded that:

  • Colleges almost never expel men who are found responsible for sexual assault
  • The US Department of Education has failed to monitor and regulate campus response to sexual assault, and has only fined colleges 6 times for violations of the Clery Act
  • Colleges are ill-equipped to handle cases of sexual assault

The report also notes that while colleges are rarely equipped to handle the judicial response to an assault, more institutions are investing in prevention measures. But few are doing it well. Dara Raboy-Picciano, who coordinates assault prevention programming at Binghamton University, and Monica Collins, who manages prevention programming at Colorado State University, draw attention to common approaches that are ineffective, and offer their advice on where colleges should be investing their resources in prevention programming.

What Doesn't Work

Collins and Raboy-Picciano both suggest that what does not work is:

  • Focusing only on self-defense or risk reduction programs
  • Focusing only on offering awareness programming for women

While your college might either offer self-defense classes for women or support women students in taking them, Collins warns that it is crucial to advise students that the skills learned in self defense only work in 3% of campus assaults (stranger assaults). "Most often," Collins notes, "women are assaulted by the same people they trust to walk them safely across campus or they trust enough to drink with." For the same reason, focusing your resources on blue lights, rape whistles, and pepper spray will have limited effect.

Rather than relying too heavily on risk reduction, Raboy-Picciano suggests offering education for women that focuses on examining preconceptions about consent. "What we have found," she adds, "is that our culture prepares women to blame themselves, or other women who are victims of an assault."

Collins adds that successful programming for women:

  • Focuses on debunking the myths that drinking or wearing certain clothing "causes" sexual assault
  • Informs students of the facts about sexual assault
  • Apprises students of their rights and the resources available to them on and off campus in the event that an assault does occur

However, if your institution is concerned with "prevention," then focusing on programming for women will not be enough. Collins warns that addressing sexual assault prevention as a "women's issue" -- in effect, making the women on your campus responsible for prevention -- subtly perpetuates any tendencies in your campus culture to "blame the victim."

"You want to create a campus environment that holds men accountable and offers services for men to engage with other men. Your campus should not be one where prevention is entirely the woman's responsibility."
Monica Collins, Colorado State U

Meet Your Students Where They Are

"To start an effective program for men, you have to meet students where they're at. You can't go in with some preconceived notion of what the program will look like."
Dara Raboy-Picciano, Binghamton U

Raboy-Picciano suggests identifying your target audience (for instance, the fraternities, or your student athletes, or all first-year men) and investing the time in multiple focus groups to learn more about both their needs and their preconceptions. Ask them:

  • Whether they think a prevention program is needed
  • What they think the program should look like
  • What their concept of sexual assault is
  • What their concept of consent is
  • What they think appropriate bystander behavior looks like

Depending on which group you are targeting, you need to identify their unique challenges. Student athletes may have different challenges than new pledges. "You have to really understand your campus culture," Raboy-Picciano advises.

Your Students Need to Take Ownership of the Program

"Men respond well to peers, to other men, particularly men who are leaders on campus. And they respond well to small group settings."
Dara Raboy-Picciano, Binghamton U

To launch your awareness and prevention programming, Raboy-Picciano recommends recruiting peer facilitators from among your target group, training them, and then allowing and encouraging them to take ownership of the program.

When you are first starting the program, you can recruit from your focus groups; there will be likely be a few men who come forward and share an interest in getting involved. Once you have established a core group of peer educators, they can take on the responsibility of active recruiting.

"Any program for men needs to have male facilitators who have first done some of their own work in identifying their biases."
Monica Collins, Colorado State U

Raboy-Picciano recommends having potential peer educators go through an application and interview process with both your professional staff and current peer educators. The training process is essential. This is a "train the trainer" opportunity, and it is critical that the training for your peer educators models the training they will be leading. The training needs to take them through scenarios and debrief discussions designed to assist them in identifying and defusing their own rape myths and biases.

What the Training Should Include

Your focus groups should identify the areas where training is most needed in your particular campus culture, but Raboy-Picciano highlights three common areas:

  • Empathy with victims (to help students identify with the experience of an assault victim
  • Understanding consent (to help students investigate rape myths and their own biases)
  • Bystander intervention (to help students identify behaviors they can adopt to help prevent an assault or to intervene)

Binghamton University has designed a three-tiered program to address these three; each tier of the program involves scenarios and facilitated debrief discussions in a small group setting.

Measuring Your Effectiveness

Tracking the impact of your programs will be extremely difficult; after all, you won't be able to quantify the number of assaults that are not happening as a result of your programs. In fact, if your programming is effective, it will probably result in more sexual assaults being reported on your campus.

"Increased reports of sexual assaults may not mean more assaults are happening on campus; it more likely means that more victims are becoming aware of their rights and resources."
Monica Collins, Colorado State University

The best way to begin measuring your program's impact is to offer pre- and post-program surveys that not only ask students how their beliefs about consent and bystander behavior have changed, but also pose scenarios, asking students to problem-solve and identify the actions they would take. This will allow you to begin documenting behavioral change.