Addressing and Preventing Sexual Assault on Campus

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.

UniversityAt 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:

    1. National Institute for Justice Sexual Assault on Campus Information
    2. Bureau of Justice Assistance Campus Security Guidelines
    3. Community Oriented Policing Services Campus Safety Publications
    4. Office on Violence Against Women Roundtable with Campus Law Enforcement

Eve Birge is a education program specialist in the Office of Safe and Healthy Students


  1. I reported academic dishonesty, sexual harassment, and retaliation at the State University of New York at Albany. UAlbany further retaliated, even sending a threat to my mother – the fact that SUNY’s been under investigation by the US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) didn’t deter UAlbany in the least. OCR has so far left the threats send to me and my family unaddressed. There is little help for victims out there, apart from people who will listen (and even those can be hard to come by at times – far too many people don’t want to hear about it). I intend to keep looking for help, and hope other victims and witnesses will manage to do so as well as best they can.

  2. We need to stop blaming the survivor and start blaming the RAPIST. Not all survivors of sexual assault are male. Stop using the word, “victim” and replace it with survivors. Tell the survivors that you believe them and it’s NOT THEIR FAULT!

  3. I was sexually assaulted by a prison guard when I served my prison sentence @ York Penn.He lost his job,became on the sex registry list,and went to prison.Since I’ve been out I have not been able to obtain a lawyer for this case.I exsperience deppression,p.t.s.d,fear of trusting and being in romantic relationships.

  4. Have the unintended consequences of promoting “reporting” generally and specifically this: “Shift responsibility to report and seek support from victim to bystander” been considered?
    – Fix systems BEFORE expecting survivors to report. What percentage of survivors say they are glad they reported, find any measure of justice, or aren’t at the very least further harmed?
    – What will bystanders be reporting and what are the implications for survivor autonomy?

  5. Where’s the part about clearly defining consent, and holding those who violate this definition accountable?

  6. I never thought it could happen to me, but it did. So ladies take heed to that 1 in 5 calculation. It could happen anywhere, by anyone. I was raped on FSU Campus by a stranger in the Strozier Library. And whats worse is that man went on to murder and assault other women.

    Even more terrifying is the percentage of rape cases that actually get convictions. Its less than 40 percent. Lets create awareness and ladies if you say no it doesnt matter if you were drunk, or slutty or in a predicament. NO MEANS NO! Dont be ashamed of someone violating your body. THEY should be ashamed for not having the self control and refusing to STOP.

    If you are raped or assaulted. REPORT IT. Period. Even if it doesnt lead to a conviction it will sound the bells and maybe he wont do it to someone else or maybe itll leave a blemish on his record the next time he does do it. REPORT and dont be ashamed!

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