Beyond Victim-Blaming: Incorporating Risk-Reduction in Sexual Assault Prevention

Emily Yoffe’s recent article titled “College Women: Stop Getting Drunk” has received much attention, and is problematic for a number of reasons.

To start, I agree with her premise that we must talk about the role of alcohol in sexual assault and present students with a variety of risk-reduction strategies that include decreased alcohol use. In fact, this was one of the considerations offered in response to a recently released EverFi Insight Report examining data on the connections between student alcohol use and sexual assault. However, risk-reduction IS NOT prevention in the primary—and, arguably, the most important—sense.

I’m reminded of my training as a self-defense instructor in which the trainers talked about three necessary elements in sexual assault: victim, perpetrator, and opportunity. Self-defense (and really any secondary prevention measure) was described as “removing or minimizing opportunity.” I would always tell women in my self-defense classes that there’s no guarantee these techniques will prevent them from being sexually assaulted. Will they feel more empowered upon completing the training? I hope so. Are they going to be better trained to protect themselves? That’s certainly one of the goals. But the most important question I asked these women was, “Protect yourself from what and who?” Simply put, self-defense is not a program geared towards the people who are doing the sexual assaulting. The same is true when it comes to young women’s alcohol use and their risk for being sexually assaulted.

One of the biggest problems I have with this article is the title: “College Women: Stop Getting Drunk.”  By narrowing our focus to the behavior of the group who is primarily the victim of sexual assault (women), we conveniently lose sight of the group primarily responsible for committing it (men). Sexual assault is often referred to as gender-based violence for a reason – it is disproportionately committed by men against women (although men are certainly sexually assaulted as well, and often by other men). To almost exclusively reference “prevention” as the responsibility of women is not only victim-blaming, but perpetuates a culture where rape goes unreported, perpetrators go unpunished, and we continue to endorse the insulting and intolerable assumption that “boys will be boys.”  So when Yoffe says the best rape prevention is to tell college women to stop getting so wasted, that is problematic. The best rape prevention is to get college men to stop using alcohol to increase women’s vulnerability, stop preying on drunk women, STOP RAPING.

However, this message doesn’t sit particularly well with most college men, and for good reason. An overwhelming number of campus sexual assaults are committed by a small minority of men (~5%) who are often repeat predators (averaging ~6 rapes). Given that most men do not commit sexual assault and the ones who do tend to be particularly defensive about the “stop raping” message, a more effective approach is to promote campus environments and cultures that no longer support this behavior, even tacitly. How? We need to empower all students to raise the bar and hold these men accountable. This is the premise of bystander intervention approaches – responsibility appropriately placed on perpetrators as well as the larger campus community, NOT victims.

We know both statistically and anecdotally that alcohol is involved in the overwhelming majority of campus sexual assaults. According to a 2007 study conducted for the Department of Justice, roughly 80% of victims and 70% of perpetrators had been drinking at the time of an assault. As a field, it would be reckless and irresponsible to continue to largely ignore this relationship and not include information about the role of alcohol in sexual assault prevention programs simply because of the potential for perceived victim-blaming.

To send a balanced message, we need to focus on how alcohol is used as an enabler, facilitator, and scapegoat by perpetrators. We can talk about the cognitive and physiological impairments caused by alcohol, and the fact that women and men differ in terms of their biological ability to process it. It is possible to talk about reducing alcohol use as a form of risk-reduction from a feminist and victim-sensitive perspective; we just have to think about how we say it and what the overall focus of our approach is.

It’s a fine line between talking about how all students can keep themselves safer by drinking less and making victims feel they’re to blame if something happens to them when they were drinking. In our prevention programs, we should always proceed with caution if and when we shift our focus from perpetrators to victims. And because of the historical and unfortunately ongoing tendency to blame victims in response to sexual assault, it is critical that we believe students who are brave in reporting sexual assault and assure them that the assault was not their fault.

The bottom line is that while drinking to excess puts students at risk for all sorts of negative experiences, sexual assault is an egregious violation committed by another person to the drinker and thus should never be framed as a drinker’s self-induced consequence. Victims do not ask to be raped, and alcohol does not cause a person to be violated. Perpetrators are the cause, period.

Until we change the attitudes and behaviors of predatory students, as well as the broader culture that promotes their behavior and allows them to hurt others, sexual assault will continue to be an unacceptable epidemic on college campuses. So yes, we should encourage students to drink less because it’s in their best interest for a variety of reasons. However, the real problem is the people who are committing sexual assault. Prevention efforts aimed at perpetrators and the culture and environment that support them (i.e., primary prevention) must be our main focus. That needs to come through loud and clear in our campus violence prevention policies and programs, and unfortunately that message seemed to be lost in Emily Yoffe’s piece.



EverFi Elevates the Conversation About Campus Sexual Assault


Lynn Rosenthal
White House Advisor on Violence Against Women

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


National Press Club
Washington, DC

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.”


(From left: Tammy Wincup (COO, EverFi), Sharon Love (Founder & Trustee, One Love Foundation), Lisa Maatz (VP of Government Relations, AAUW), Holly Rider-Milkovich (Director of Sexual Assault Prevention, University of Michigan), Helen Stubbs, VP of Higher Education, EverFi), Dr. Dan Zapp (Director of Research, EverFi)

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.


Timely Technology: Online Sexual Assault Prevention Helps Meet Mandates

In the midst of an unprecedented movement exposing the shortcomings of campus sexual assault policy and response to victims, it’s important to “go upstream” and address the multitude of factors that contribute to the shockingly high rates of sexual violence on our nation’s campuses to begin with. Indeed, prevention education is a critical—and perhaps the most important—component of protecting students and creating safer, healthier campuses.

Screen Shot 2013-08-05 at 1.03.18 PMThis summer, EverFi launched Haven – Understanding Sexual AssaultTM, an online learning platform focused on addressing sexual assault, relationship violence, and stalking at college.  Slated to reach nearly 300,000 students at over 180 campuses nationwide, Haven combines the power of cutting-edge technology, interactive digital media, and evidence-based content to provide a comprehensive and engaging learning experience for students. Haven also supports campus prevention practitioners as a scalable approach for reaching students, meeting Federal mandates (including the recent Campus SaVE Act), and collecting key data to inform and enhance future programming.

The spotlight of increased accountability on campuses provides an opportunity for leadership and innovation in addressing sexual assault, and the addition of Haven is an invaluable step forward for campus prevention.  To hear more about prevention strategies and the challenges facing students, administrators, and practitioners at IHE’s today, please register for our webinar, A Roadmap for Prevention: Navigating the Landscape of Campus Sexual Assault, on Wednesday, August 7th at 2PM ET.

To learn more about EverFi’s recent launch of Haven, check out our recent press release!

What Playstation 4 Can Teach Higher Ed

Just a few months ago, I joined EverFi to lend my leadership and voice to their efforts to partner with education leaders in an effort to educate our kids on critical life skills.  Having spent the last 13 years working with educators and administrators, I bring to EverFi a true passion for promoting education technology solutions, and a strong desire to affect change in some critical areas of higher education.


Today, colleges and universities are forced to deal with the often-competing interests of how to provide an even higher quality educational experience to their students while tuition costs and budgets are under extreme scrutiny.  When you further consider the heightened focus on post-graduate success and the move by some states to tie funding to student achievement and retention rates, the result is mounting pressure that we all face every day as education leaders.

Whether we like it or not, most students today are increasingly making their decisions about college like they make other decisions as consumers.  Some recent studies provide striking comparisons between the expectations that students have for their education experience, and that which they would have about any other consumer purchase decision.

We are living in an on-demand world, and these convergent issues are having an impact on higher education.  The reality is that students have higher expectations about how/when/where they will “consume” education, and what the value is of the decisions that they make.  Sites like College Reality Check and College Scorecard aim to help students better understand, evaluate, and select the school that best meets their needs.  Interactive forums on College Confidential invite students (and parents) to comment about the pros and cons of schools, post comments, and ask questions.  At the end of the day, students are quite literally shopping for a school and they expect to “buy” a college experience that is as flexible and customizable as their Facebook page.

ps4_play_imgSo what are the implications to a university welcoming in a class of first-year student-education consumers?   I would suggest we look no further than the 5 key principles in crafting PS4 architecture – for those of you non-millenials like me, that’s Playstation 4, Sony’s popular gaming console.

  1. Simple: Don’t over-complicate it, (whatever “it’ may be).  Make it intuitive and easy to absorb.
  2. Immediate: Deliver content to a student when they want it, where they want it, and while it’s most relevant.
  3. Integrated: Commit to interconnected programming across your campus.
  4. Social: Reach students where they are, leveraging the social tools they use.
  5. Personalized: Leverage data to create a custom experience for your students tailored to their academic and non-academic needs.

While some may view comparisons between gaming consoles and higher education to be a stretch – if not downright offensive – I firmly believe that we, as higher education leaders, must spend more time thinking through the implications of our approach to the students that we serve. Today’s students have great experiences with top brands like Zappos, Amazon, and Facebook because those brands understand what their consumers expect.  The very notion of “student services” is rapidly changing, and I look forward to continuing to work with you in my new role at EverFi as we tackle these issues together.

Making Sense of Money on College Campuses

Emily Hester

Helping dollars make sense on a college campus isn’t easy, but it is vitally important. For staff at Louisiana State University in the Student Financial Management Center, we want students to not only be retained and to graduate, but we want to help equip them with the tools they need to be successful in the “real world” and we know that a big part of that comes from financial and money management education.

Student DebtFour years ago, one-third of LSU students identified their current financial situation as always or often stressful. What we know is that if a student is stressed about his or her finances then focusing on academics and other pieces of the college experience become exponentially more difficult. So, knowing the problem – we are working toward a solution. At LSU, this starts Day 1, or in reality Day 0 in their life as a LSU tiger. During each orientation session, incoming LSU students are educated about financial literacy and keeping a budget while they are students. Through teaching them about the resources and the reasons for overspending, we are trying to tackle the problem of lack of financial education head-on. This also comes with a focus on first year students. In partnership with First Year Experience, the LSU SFMC created a five-part series called First Year Finances helping students learn how to earn, spend, save, and repay money.


Click for Full Infographic

In addition, we spread the word of financial literacy through presentations to courses, student organizations, Greek organizations, and in the residence halls. Bottom line, if a group will let us talk to students about the importance of money management – we make ourselves available. However, probably the most intimate way we are helping teach financial literacy is through our one-on-one appointments. In the one-on-one setting we are able to help a student create a budget using their financial history and behaviors and answer questions specific to the student. We have found students to appreciate the one-on-one attention. Following an appointment one student said, “The staff in the SFMC was very warm and understanding of a typical college student’s financial woes. Whether you’re just entering college, or about to leave campus for the big, scary world, I felt confident that the advice she was giving me was not only helpful, but would be easy to implement and follow so that I could be financially stable during this scary time.“ We believe our background in student affairs helps us to better serve LSU students and help put financial concepts in easy to understand language.

Last, and certainly not least, the Student Financial Management Center focuses a significant amount of time and resources to sending students to resources on the web. We recognize that we cannot touch every student in person, but we do have the opportunity to reach thousands of students through the internet.

Finally, this year LSU took the leap into implementing Buttonwood: The LSU Financial Literacy Challenge for all first year and transfer students. For the first time in the four years of our existence, we have been able to educate the large mass of first year students having a completion rate of over 62%. Only time will tell what this means for LSU students, but we are excited for the potential to come in educating LSU students regarding financial literacy. Geaux Tigers!

FinLit Month

Defining “Digital Identity” at NASPA 2013

Digital Identity word cloud

As someone who has been on Facebook for almost a decade, it is hard to remember life before social media.  But I do, sort of.

I remember the letter Mrs. Freeman sent home in 6th grade alerting parents to the distracting nature of America Online, as it was definitely “a disruption to studying.”  I remember picking my screen-name “Shnoogle,” (cringe) and the……dial-up…static…and satisfying welcome chime! that became a nightly habit.  Hearing the words “you’ve got mail,” brought a new pleasure never before experienced.  And that was just the beginning.

NAPSA LogoI recently returned from my first NASPA conference (National Association of Student Personnel Administrators). The conference brings together student affairs administrators of all levels at receptions, luncheons, and other miscellaneous events. However, the best networking occurs during the educational sessions and featured speakers.

It was during one of these speaker sessions that I had the opportunity to hear Eric Stoller, Student Affairs and Technology blogger for Inside Higher Ed, speak to a room of young student affairs professionals on how to help students develop their digital identities.

Eric asked the obvious question “how do we define digital identity”?

Some hands shot up…

“It’s who you present yourself to be online.”

“It’s what shows up when you google yourself.”

“It’s your brand.”

I thought about how I would answer the question myself.  It’s you, online.  Simple.  But then I thought about all pictures that don’t make it on to Facebook profiles, or in some cases, unfortunately do.

When one of the student affairs administrators asked Eric how to deal with frat members posting photos of themselves wearing their letters while taking shots of tequila, he answered “social didn’t invent stupidity overnight.”

Screen Shot 2013-03-26 at 9.32.43 AMIn other words, students have been saying and doing dumb stuff forever.  Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram just make it so much easier.  And likes, retweets and comments, just validate and encourage them to do it more frequently.

Most of us don’t count the number of times in a week that someone laughs at a joke, compliments our shirt, or gives you a fist bump for no reason.  So why do we get excited when our new profile picture gets 11 likes?  Because the feeling is instant and self-affirming.

“Yes, I do look awesome in this photo.  Yes, my kid is the absolute cutest, so let me share another 37 pictures with you…”

We’ve all heard horror stories about embarrassing photos being posted online, or career-ending tweets.  We’ve heard of people creating “professional Facebook” vs. “personal Facebook” or trying to lockdown content areas using a complex formula of privacy settings.  But the hard truth is that the notion of ‘online privacy’ is a fallacy.

We can’t be all things to everyone, but we can be everything to a select few.  So who we talk to, and how we talk to them matter.  Context matters.  And in the context of social media we have to develop a digital identity that is both true to ourselves and aware of our audience (everyone).

To me, this feels like good old-fashioned student development.  Teach and train around positive values and respectful conversation.  If it seems hard, it’s because the current generation of students has little, or no memory of life before social media, and so it’s up to parents, mentors, and teachers to steer them back on to the path, even when we may not know where it leads.


EverFi-Public-Private Partnership Model – A Case Study

EverFi is fortunate to work with over 1,000 customers throughout the country, many of which sponsor EverFi platforms for k-12 schools.  Sponsors are a key aspect of our business model – it’s how we bring our cutting edge technology to students, at no cost to schools, districts, or taxpayers.

Bruce Rauner speaks with a Waukegan student about her future career plans.

Bruce Rauner speaks with a Waukegan student about her future career plans.

We work with 69 of the largest school districts in the country, but also work with some of the smallest, including a few schools with 30-40 students.  We cherish all of these partners, large and small.  At EverFi (a.k.a the Fi), we work with and bring together, leading corporations, and foundations to support schools. This defines our public-private sponsorship model.   We are on a mission – make sure students have access to the best digital learning resources that focus on teaching, assessing, and certifying students in critical life skills…and better yet, our model delivers these platforms free to sponsored schools.

Our unique private-public partnership model benefits schools in more ways than just funding.  Often unnoticed, many dedicate time in the classroom to share their experiences with students, host certification and launch events, and fund scholarships.  For example, The Rauner Family Foundation is the Illinois statewide sponsor for EverFi-Financial Literacy .  We also have many great local sponsors throughout Illinois, including JPMorgan Chase, who sponsors our learning platforms in Chicago.

After a successful career in finance and venture capital, Bruce Rauner supports many philanthropic initiatives, with a major focus on education.  His passion for education led him to partner with EverFi to help thousands of students across the state become financially literate citizens.

Bruce Rauner observes students working on the Rauner Family Foundation Financial Scholars program.

Bruce Rauner observes students working on the Rauner Family Foundation Financial Scholars program.

In addition to sponsoring the program, Mr. Rauner recently dedicated many hours completing a multi-city tour visiting schools and students.  During this tour he shared his expertise and dedication to the issue of financial literacy.  The events took different forms:

  • Certification Ceremonies – recognizing students for completing the platform
  • Launch Events – exciting students who are just getting started
  • Game Competition – allowing students to set a budget and compete in an online simulation earning points for financially sound decisions

While the events were different, Mr. Rauner’s message remained consistent: financial literacy is of utmost importance, and I want you to be prepared.  At each event, Mr. Rauner spoke to students, and engaged them in a dialogue around key financial topics. Equally as important, students were recognized and shared their views, including even a few brave student speakers.

A Thornwood student speaks to the audience about her takeaways from the EverFi-Financial Literacy program at a recent certification event.

A Thornwood student speaks to the audience about her takeaways from the EverFi-Financial Literacy program at a recent certification event.

Mr. Rauner is not the only sponsor to be involved with the program outside of funding. Our sponsors are active across the nation, working with schools to create a truly meaningful experience for students. This is what makes the public-private partnership so special. These professionals can become role models for young students.  In turn, the private-public partnership provides schools not only with critical content presented in an engaging way, but also with a point of contact to add even more value and inspiration to the student experience.

On the eve of Financial Literacy Month in April, we hope you plan an event in your market to celebrate along with students, to recognize them and to inspire them.  Our sponsors have provided students with a life-changing resource. The students will benefit greatly from the sponsors rationale behind financing the program. The students will also appreciate the inspiration to become lifelong learners of such critical skills from the leaders in their community.


Students at Thornwood High School celebrate certification in the Rauner Family Foundation Financial Scholars Program.

Students at Thornwood High School celebrate certification in the Rauner Family Foundation Financial Scholars Program.