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Everfi Executive On Protecting College Students From Sexual Assault

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In my nearly seven year career as the director of a sexual assault prevention and response program at a large public university, it was my privilege to listen to the voices of hundreds of survivors who chose to share their stories with me. While each survivor's’ experience is unique, a common thread through their stories is the hope that others will be spared the terrifying loss of power and control at the core of an experience of sexual assault.


It is critical to bring the voices of survivors into every conversation we have about sexual assault because those voices serve as both a compass and as a motivator for our actions to end sexual assault on college campuses. As the Senior Director of Prevention Education at EverFi, the nation’s leading education technology company, my sole mission is to challenge and empower the higher education community so that together we can create safer, healthier campus communities.

At EverFi, we work with over 1,300 campuses and reach millions of college students each year with our sexual assault prevention courses. Through the survey data from each of these participants, we have learned a lot about how college students think, believe, and act. We know, for example, that the overwhelming majority of students on college campuses engage in healthy and respectful sexual interactions with each other. Less positively, we have learned that while most students say they would intervene in a situation of harm involving another student, far fewer believe that other students would do the same. And, heartbreakingly, we know that students are still experiencing violence at alarming rates. Numerous surveys and studies find that between 15 and 25% of college women report experiencing sexual assault during their time on campus. The rate is more than two times higher for those students who identify as LGBT and/ or students of color. And male students are also experiencing violence. Clearly, we have much more work to do.

I posed this question: “What would help you to heal?”

Her answer: “I just don’t want this to happen to someone else.”

Our experience in prevention education has taught us some important lessons in effective practices for college campuses. Our data affirms what public health practitioners have long noted; there are no silver bullet programs, speakers, posters--or even, yes, on-line courses--that will, alone, end sexual assault. The most effective approaches on college campuses require a long-term commitment and many coordinated efforts to have impact. We need to promote positive behaviors in students and support healthy sexuality; we need to teach consent as a critical skill that all persons need to be successful, healthy, respectful global citizens; we need to empower students to care for each other and step in when they see someone engaging in harmful behavior.

The good news is that more and more colleges are adopting this approach and supporting the health, safety, and well-being of their students by investing in rigorous comprehensive prevention efforts. More college and university presidents are speaking out about this issue on their campuses, and more students are identifying that they have a role to play in ending violence on their campus.

But the news is not all rosy--while there is increasing support for prevention at higher education institutions, our data from a diverse subset of campuses across the country reflects that, on average, schools are spending just over $5 per student per year on sexual violence prevention. For smaller schools, the total spend per student goes up to nearly $8, while larger schools are spending an average of less than $1.35 per student on prevention. Think about that for a minute: the largest institutions of higher education spend less on sexual violence prevention per student than the cost of a latte. Schools simply must invest more to help ensure the safe and healthy future of their students.

As a nation, we have made tremendous progress in the last decade in combatting sexual assault on college campuses. But, in order to maintain this progress, there is a lot of work we must continue to do. From my role, I will continue to press each day to help develop and publish effective prevention tools through the Campus Prevention Network, EverFi’s nationwide initiative to bring together institutions that have demonstrated commitment to adopting the highest standards for prevention related to health and safety issues on their campuses.

I hope you will join me in this work. Here are some actions you can take:

Contact your congressional representatives and other elected officials and let them know that you care about ending sexual violence on college campuses, and that you wish them to continue the progress of the past decade.

Inquire with your alma mater about their sexual assault prevention efforts. Do they provide education to all students beyond the first year? How do they measure the effectiveness of their programs?

Engage in conversations with college students in your life about the importance of verbal, enthusiastic consent for all sexual activity. Not sure what to say? Try asking these questions to get started: how do you let your sexual partner know what you do and don’t want to do? How do you know if you have received consent for sexual activity? What is your plan if you’ve both been drinking and are considering having sex?

To harness the powerful words of former Vice President Joe Biden, it truly is on all of us to work together to continue the momentum of the past decade and keep working to end sexual assault on college campuses.

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Politics

Do 2020 Presidential Candidates Still Have Rules to Play By?

Not too many years ago, my advice to political candidates would have been pretty simple: "Don't do or say anything stupid." But the last few elections have rendered that advice outdated.


When Barack Obama referred to his grandmother as a "typical white woman" during the 2008 campaign, for example, many people thought it would cost him the election -- and once upon a time, it probably would have. But his supporters were focused on the values and positions he professed, and they weren't going to let one unwise comment distract them. Candidate Obama didn't even get much pushback for saying, "We're five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America." That statement should have given even his most ardent supporters pause, but it didn't. It was in line with everything Obama had previously said, and it was what his supporters wanted to hear.

2016: What rules?

Fast forward to 2016, and Donald Trump didn't just ignore traditional norms, he almost seemed to relish violating them. Who would have ever dreamed we'd elect a man who talked openly about grabbing women by the **** and who was constantly blasting out crazy-sounding Tweets? But Trump did get elected. Why? Some people believe it was because Americans finally felt like they had permission to show their bigotry. Others think Obama had pushed things so far to the left that right-wing voters were more interested in dragging public policy back toward the middle than in what Trump was Tweeting.

Another theory is that Trump's lewd, crude, and socially unacceptable behavior was deliberately designed to make Democrats feel comfortable campaigning on policies that were far further to the left than they ever would have attempted before. Why? Because they were sure America would never elect someone who acted like Trump. If that theory is right, and Democrats took the bait, Trump's "digital policies" served him well.

And although Trump's brash style drew the most handlines, he wasn't the only one who seemed to have forgotten the, "Don't do or say anything stupid," rule. Hillary Clinton also made news when she made a "basket of deplorables" comment at a private fundraiser, but it leaked out, and it dogged her for the rest of the election cycle.

And that's where we need to start our discussion. Now that all the old rules about candidate behavior have been blown away, do presidential candidates even need digital policies?

Yes, they do. More than ever, in my opinion. Let me tell you why.

Digital policies for 2020 and beyond

While the 2016 election tossed traditional rules about political campaigns to the trash heap, that doesn't mean you can do anything you want. Even if it's just for the sake of consistency, candidates need digital policies for their own campaigns, regardless of what anybody else is doing. Here are some important things to consider.

Align your digital policies with your campaign strategy

Aside from all the accompanying bells and whistles, why do you want to be president? What ideological beliefs are driving you? If you were to become president, what would you want your legacy to be? Once you've answered those questions honestly, you can develop your campaign strategy. Only then can you develop digital policies that are in alignment with the overall purpose -- the "Why?" -- of your campaign:

  • If part of your campaign strategy, for example, is to position yourself as someone who's above the fray of the nastiness of modern politics, then one of your digital policies should be that your campaign will never post or share anything that attacks another candidate on a personal level. Attacks will be targeted only at the policy level.
  • While it's not something I would recommend, if your campaign strategy is to depict the other side as "deplorables," then one of your digital policies should be to post and share every post, meme, image, etc. that supports your claim.
  • If a central piece of your platform is that detaining would-be refugees at the border is inhumane, then your digital policies should state that you will never say, post, or share anything that contradicts that belief, even if Trump plans to relocate some of them to your own city. Complaining that such a move would put too big a strain on local resources -- even if true -- would be making an argument for the other side. Don't do it.
  • Don't be too quick to share posts or Tweets from supporters. If it's a text post, read all of it to make sure there's not something in there that would reflect negatively on you. And examine images closely to make sure there's not a small detail that someone may notice.
  • Decide what your campaign's voice and tone will be. When you send out emails asking for donations, will you address the recipient as "friend" and stress the urgency of donating so you can continue to fight for them? Or will you personalize each email and use a more low-key, collaborative approach?

Those are just a few examples. The takeaway is that your online behavior should always support your campaign strategy. While you could probably get away with posting or sharing something that seems mean or "unpresidential," posting something that contradicts who you say you are could be deadly to your campaign. Trust me on this -- if there are inconsistencies, Twitter will find them and broadcast them to the world. And you'll have to waste valuable time, resources, and public trust to explain those inconsistencies away.

Remember that the most common-sense digital policies still apply

The 2016 election didn't abolish all of the rules. Some still apply and should definitely be included in your digital policies:

  1. Claim every domain you can think of that a supporter might type into a search engine. Jeb Bush not claiming www.jebbush.com (the official campaign domain was www.jeb2016.com) was a rookie mistake, and he deserved to have his supporters redirected to Trump's site.
  2. Choose your campaign's Twitter handle wisely. It should be obvious, not clever or cutesy. In addition, consider creating accounts with possible variations of the Twitter handle you chose so that no one else can use them.
  3. Give the same care to selecting hashtags. When considering a hashtag, conduct a search to understand its current use -- it might not be what you think! When making up new hashtags, try to avoid anything that could be hijacked for a different purpose -- one that might end up embarrassing you.
  4. Make sure that anyone authorized to Tweet, post, etc., on your behalf has a copy of your digital policies and understands the reasons behind them. (People are more likely to follow a rule if they understand why it's important.)
  5. Decide what you'll do if you make an online faux pas that starts a firestorm. What's your emergency plan?
  6. Consider sending an email to supporters who sign up on your website, thanking them for their support and suggesting ways (based on digital policies) they can help your messaging efforts. If you let them know how they can best help you, most should be happy to comply. It's a small ask that could prevent you from having to publicly disavow an ardent supporter.
  7. Make sure you're compliant with all applicable regulations: campaign finance, accessibility, privacy, etc. Adopt a double opt-in policy, so that users who sign up for your newsletter or email list through your website have to confirm by clicking on a link in an email. (And make sure your email template provides an easy way for people to unsubscribe.)
  8. Few people thought 2016 would end the way it did. And there's no way to predict quite yet what forces will shape the 2020 election. Careful tracking of your messaging (likes, shares, comments, etc.) will tell you if you're on track or if public opinion has shifted yet again. If so, your messaging needs to shift with it. Ideally, one person should be responsible for monitoring reaction to the campaign's messaging and for raising a red flag if reactions aren't what was expected.

Thankfully, the world hasn't completely lost its marbles

Whatever the outcome of the election may be, candidates now face a situation where long-standing rules of behavior no longer apply. You now have to make your own rules -- your own digital policies. You can't make assumptions about what the voting public will or won't accept. You can't assume that "They'll never vote for someone who acts like that"; neither can you assume, "Oh, I can get away with that, too." So do it right from the beginning. Because in this election, I predict that sound digital policies combined with authenticity will be your best friend.