If you are a young woman entering college, there is at least a one in five chance that you will be the victim of attempted or completed sexual assault.
Although colleges and universities have taken recent steps to address and prevent sexual assault, instances of sexual violence have long-term effects for victims and communities, fostering a climate of fear and disrespect and damaging the physical and psychological health of victims. Sexual assault creates an environment that can limit learning and undermine students’ ability to achieve their full potential.
At the Department of Education, we understand that victims of sexual assault are more likely to suffer academically, to experience depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, to abuse alcohol and drugs, and to contemplate suicide. We also know there’s a need for improved victim services and support, increased accountability for those who commit acts of sexual violence, and stronger efforts to ensure that colleges and universities comply with federal laws that aim to make our campuses safer.
Research and best practices coming out of the field of public health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) support the need for a comprehensive, coordinated approach to violence prevention. The Department of Education encourages campus and community efforts to increase awareness and engage in primary prevention campaigns.
Some key elements of effective prevention
Objective 1. Engage the college community in prevention efforts
- Establish a distinctive and positive brand for the campus prevention and support campaign
- Devote adequate staff time for meaningful engagement across the learning community
- Make this campaign a clear and visible priority for leadership
- Increase options and opportunities for engagement around the issue
- Formally and informally embed prevention across the entire ecology of the college, for example:
- Curriculum infusion
- Internships and partnerships across campus
- HR manual and policy changes, as needed
- Faculty and coach toolkits
Objective 2. Change the current norms from bystander inaction to engagement
- Establish a distinctive and positive brand for bystander engagement
- Invite a critical mass of community members to attend a research-informed, data driven bystander program
- Infuse positive bystander messaging across formal and informal mechanisms for shaping community norms (admissions policies, freshman trips, classrooms, residential life, student groups, athletic teams, etc.)
Objective 3. Promote a culture of victim support and reporting
- Establish a distinctive and positive brand for victim-assistance efforts
- Shift responsibility to report and seek support from victim to bystander
- Offer response services
- Establish a fair and effective judicial system
- Increase doors of access for victims to engage, for example:
- Arts and advocacy
- Volunteer opportunities
- Empowerment through engagement
Our colleagues at the Department of Justice are also focused on this issue. We have included links to some of the exciting work they have done to provide schools with resources and to build on existing efforts:
Eve Birge is a education program specialist in the Office of Safe and Healthy Students