Great things happen when the right people are part of the process.
According to special guest speaker Lynn Rosenthal,White House Advisor on Violence Against Women, EverFi’s panel event on campus sexual assault prevention at the National Press Club on Wednesday brought together “exactly the right people to have this very conversation.” Indeed, the panelists represented public policy (Lisa Maatz, VP of Government Relations at AAUW), campus prevention (Holly Rider-Milkovich, Director of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center at the University of Michigan), and research and evaluation (Helen Stubbs, VP of Partner Education at EverFi), with closing remarks from Sharon Love (Founder/Trustee of the One Love Foundation). Audience members included representatives from local colleges and universities and national advocacy organizations*.
Insights and Implications
New data collected from over 200,000 incoming college students was presented by Dr. Dan Zapp (Associate Director of Research, EverFi), coinciding with the recent release of EverFi’s Insight Report titled “The Relationship Between Alcohol and Sexual Assault on the College Campus.” The data reinforce that most students come to college with relatively healthy attitudes and behaviors. However, a small minority of students move in a very negative direction after coming to college, with higher reports of unhealthy attitudes and perceptions and greater rates of sexual assault victimization and perpetration. This trend coincides with increased alcohol use and decreased protective behaviors. While the concurrent relationship between alcohol and sexual assault is clear in the data, causality cannot be inferred in either direction. This is important to note, as all too often the role of alcohol is portrayed in a way that inappropriately places responsibility and blame on victims.
This new research offers important considerations and implications for campus prevention practitioners. These include:
- the need to identify and target these high-risk students
- the importance of social norms and bystander intervention approaches
- collaboration and co-curricular education on alcohol and sexual assault, especially in the first six weeks after matriculation
- more and better evaluation of campus prevention efforts
- increased support for survivors
- risk-reduction education framed within the context of health promotion
- comprehensive programming stressing primary prevention
Unmasking the Issue
According to Maatz, “ The only way we can address this problem is by actually talking about it and doing what we need to acknowledge what’s happening.” This statement represented the need for more and better data collection and reporting to truly understand what is taking place on campuses. At first glance, the data may not look good. According to Rider-Milkovich, improved policy, prevention, and outreach efforts may result in a marked increase in students seeking services for sexual assault. This is a good sign, however, as students feel supported enough by their institution to come forward – a vital step in changing the campus culture. Rider-Milkovich referenced the need for a “data anxiety vaccine,” stating that the data are not good or bad – “it is what is.”
Maatz spoke to the reticence of campuses in reporting on sexual violence: “More data is not a public relations nightmare, it is a public relations opportunity.” Understanding the state of the problem and the needs of students allows practitioners to make informed decisions about prevention and response. Increased evaluation of campus programming allows for more effective prevention efforts, and is critical for deepening the evidence base of the field. However, many campuses are constrained in their resources for evaluation. Currently, OVW campus grant recipients can only use 5% of funding for evaluation. “This is something we can take on,” says Maatz.
The Importance of Primary Prevention
“The perpetrator is the problem but the victim is always the focus,” said Sharon Love, shining light on the need for increased efforts to prevent violence before it occurs. The Campus SaVE Act explicitly calls for primary prevention programs for all incoming students and staff, but lacks guidance for campus practitioners on what this means and how it should be done. Discussing the challenges of changing a campus culture, Stubbs outlined the need for community-based approaches including social norms and bystander intervention. One of the most powerful ways to prevent perpetration is to change perpetrators’ perceptions of peer support for their problematic attitudes and behaviors.
When asked how to address the interplay between alcohol and sexual assault, Rider-Milkovich encouraged practitioners to “rewind” the conversation and talk about why college students feel the need to be drunk in order to engage in sexual behavior. From a truly “upstream” perspective, Maatz stressed the importance of talking early and talking often about these issues: “We need to start thinking about education on sexual assault and relationship violence for K-12 students.”
* National advocacy organizations present included: National Sexual Violence Resource Center, National Network to End Domestic Violence, National Organization for Women, VTV Family Outreach Foundation, Break the Cycle, One Love Foundation, Feminist Majority Foundation, American Association of University Women, Jewish Women International, YWCA USA, National Women’s Law Center, and Wider Opportunities for Women. EverFi sends a special thank you to all attendees.