Campus Sexual Violence: Working to End It Together

By Haskins, Julia | The Nation's Health, April 2018 | Go to article overview

Campus Sexual Violence: Working to End It Together


Haskins, Julia, The Nation's Health


AS THE NATIONAL CONVERSATION on sexual violence amplifies, the public has become more aware of the scope of the problem and its detrimental toll on survivors.

While recent discussion has largely focused on issues of consent and accountability, it has also opened the door to envisioning a culture in which sexual violence is not committed in the first place--a goal that can be worked toward through principles of public health.

"The media coverage of this issue is really helpful because it reaches people with the idea that this is a large-scale public health problem, it affects everyone and that hopefully what the next message we can convey is it's preventable," Sarah DeGue, PhD, behavioral scientist in the Division of Violence Prevention at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told The Nation's Health.

Sexual violence can be reduced through primary prevention, which seeks to reduce risk factors and boost protective factors against harmful behaviors. And few settings are as suited to primary prevention measures as higher education. According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, sexual violence is more prevalent in higher education, with about 11 percent of all students experiencing rape or sexual assault on campus. Among undergraduate women, the rate is about 23 percent, and among men, about 5 percent.

CDC offers resources specific to sexual violence prevention, including "Stop SV: A Technical Package to Prevent Sexual Violence" and "Sexual Violence on Campus: Strategies for Prevention." Both resources highlight CDC's evidence-based models for sexual violence prevention, which hinge on implementing broad, community-based strategies as well as developing a culture of safety and respect. Under CDC's framework, prevention takes place throughout a social ecological model. In other words, there are actions that can be taken at the individual, relationship, community and societal levels to stop sexual violence.

"Public health underscores the importance of primary prevention," CDC said. "A comprehensive approach with preventive interventions at multiple levels of the social ecological model ... is critical to having a population level impact on (sexual violence)."

CDC's guidelines reflect an increasing shift in ideology that anti-sexual violence advocates have long promoted: moving past federal compliance in responding to campus sexual violence toward stamping it out altogether.

"Our goal is fundamentally not to reduce liability, but to create a healthy environment for all members of the university community," David Lee, MPH, director of prevention at the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault and director of Prevent Connect, told The Nation's Health.

In building such an environment, all campus community members need to consider the potentially harmful social and gender norms that have shaped their understanding of sexual violence. Students come to campus with a range of life experiences and ingrained beliefs, but colleges and universities can play an influential role in helping them reexamine the norms that foster a culture of sexual violence, Lee said.

"You have to be able to make people engage with you around this topic," Drew Colling, MS, LCPC, director and campus assault prevention coordinator of the Student Advocacy Resource Center at the University of Montana, told The Nation's Health. "For some people, it's going to be the first time they've ever heard this information."

It may also be the first time that many students are interacting with people from such a wide range of backgrounds and identities. Colleges and universities must strive for inclusive programming that speaks to the many experiences of community members, Colling said. A comprehensive discussion of sexual violence also includes the ways that sexual violence disproportionately impacts certain groups, particularly women, LGBTQ people and racial and ethnic minorities. …

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