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.
Mid December with the holiday season on the horizon and having read too many pieces about social media addiction, I was ready for a break. Every time I reached for my phone, I had a Pavlovian instinct to click on the Instagram icon and that's when I knew it was time.