No issue in higher education has garnered more attention and controversy in the past year than how to best safeguard students from sexual assault and abuse. However, there is still not even a consensus on the scope of this problem, particularly for incoming college students during their first few weeks on campus. Given the size of the higher education population that Everfi works with, our data provide a unique perspective into the attitudes and behaviors of this at risk group. The findings are documented in a newly published report titled Sexual Victimization and Social Norms on the College Campus.
At the start of the 2014-2015 academic year, EverFi’s sexual assault education and prevention course, Haven, was provided to more than 530,000 students on over 400 college campuses across the United States. Sixty-six percent of these students were freshmen who were required to take the course prior to matriculating on campus. Prior to receiving the course content, every student was presented with a survey to gather insights into their their attitudes, experiences, and behaviors related to sexual assault and relationship violence. The same survey was administered after a four- to six-week intersession once students had successfully completed the course, with 53% of our original student base responding to the same set of questions.
Based on the full pre-course sample of attitudinal and behavioral responses, students were found to fall into either a Healthy profile (65%) or an Unhealthy profile (35%). In addition to having substantially less positive responses to survey questions, students in the Unhealthy profile were more likely to indicate having pressured or forced someone into sexual contact without their explicit consent. These students also tended to engage in more high-risk alcohol use, were more likely to be younger, male, Greek members, and student athletes.
Students were asked if they had ever “been pressured or forced into sexual contact without their consent” with “Yes, before I arrived on campus”, “Yes, after I arrived on campus”, and “Yes, before and after I arrived on campus” as separate response options. In Table 1 in the full report, victimization rates before and/or after arriving on campus are broken down across several categories for male and female students. Special attention should be paid to the increased victimization rates among LGBQ students, Native American students, and both male and female transfer students. The unique value of this analysis comes not only from the vast sample size, but also from the focus on victimization during the first months following matriculation onto campus. It is notable that our data suggest that nearly 1 in every 30 first-year female students have indicated being victimized before taking their first midterm exam.
As seen in the Haven data, the majority of campus community members have overwhelmingly healthy and positive responses to sexual assault survey questions. These students ultimately have the greatest opportunity to create the safe campus communities they want to live in, but they often do not recognize that they are part of a healthy majority and are therefore less inclined to act on their healthy beliefs and values.
Students were asked about their likelihood and comfort in intervening to prevent sexual and relationship violence, and respect for those who intervene and how they thought most students on their campus would respond. All students felt that they were drastically more likely to be an active bystander than their peers. These inaccurate perceptions of campus norms can present substantial barriers to bystander action and intervention. Comparing responses of students before and after taking Haven, students’ misperceptions of norms were reduced by 20-30%. This promising finding indicates that students were becoming more aware that positive bystander behavior is normative, acceptable, and encouraged on their campus.
EverFi continues to analyze the data we collect on student attitudes and behaviors towards sexual assault and relationship violence with the goal of helping campuses better understand the current student culture around this critically important topic. For additional information or questions about this data, please contact EverFi’s Director of Research, Dr. Dan Zapp, Ph.D at firstname.lastname@example.org.