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What We Know About Preventing Sexual Assault on Campus

The more you know, the safer you will be. That axiom is certainly true for campuses that are working to prevent and reduce sexual assault. When campus communities know more about the many interconnected aspects of sexual assault, the safer their campus will be.


During Sexual Assault Awareness Month, we present a few of these interconnected aspects. They include understanding what consent looks and sounds like, knowing when and where sexual assaults are most likely to occur, knowing what bystanders can do to prevent sexual assault, knowing how to report a crime, understanding the principles of confidentiality, knowing which policies and practices are based on proven techniques, and being sensitive to issues specific to the campus.


The “campus community” encompasses anyone who is touched by life at the college – not just students, teachers, and administrators. Members of the campus community include the school’s security staff, local law enforcement, local businesses, mental health service providers, as well as local attorneys and various court professionals.


Knowing what to do to prevent and handle sexual assault entails knowing how to treat bystanders, victims, and alleged perpetrators. A competent response by security personnel, administrators, other students and staff entails treating all parties with respect and due process, holding perpetrators accountable, and ensuring that students, who have been victimized, have the safety and support they need to stay in school and finish their studies.


VAWA grants have helped colleges increase awareness and improve responses through trainings, community-based educational programs, data collection efforts, and other related activities. Colleges and universities that receive VAWA grants train more than 17,000 people in a year on how to respond to domestic and sexual violence and report serving more than 900 victims on campus every six months. Details about the impact of VAWA grants are available in the Biennial Report to Congress on the Effectiveness of Grants. Pages 85 to 94 specifically describe the campus grant program.


According to some studies, approximately 80 percent of female victims of sexual assault are raped before the age of 25, and almost half experience the first rape before age 18. Incoming first-year college students may be at a particularly high risk of being sexually assaulted early in the school year. It is worth giving students sexual assault awareness information very early in their college career.


The Center for Changing Our Campus Culture (the Center) recently published a guide relating to sexual assault, which the Center funded through an OVW grant. The Center entitled the guide “Addressing Gender-Based Violence on College Campuses.” Although the guide does not represent the views of the OVW, it may be a helpful model for preventing and reducing sexual assault on campus. The guide lays out the goals for preventing and responding and describes steps to take to achieve those goals. The Center based the guide on the lessons learned from the Center’s 20 years of campus-based efforts made possible by the Violence Against Women Act.

The three goals outlined in the Center’s guide are as follows:


  1. Seek broad campus and community engagement.

  2. Put interventions in place that have been proven to be effective.

  3. Reduce gender-based violence on campus.


To achieve the three goals, the guide suggests following a three-phased structure and provides sample planning documents, resources and tools to use at each phase. The three phases may guide institutions through each goal from beginning to end to ensure a comprehensive, sustainable response.


Phase 1: Plan and prepare. Focus on building a foundation by assessing the current situation and drafting strategic plans.


Phase 2: Implement. Put into place the plans developed in phase 1 while staying in close contact with all the teams who were involved in the planning.


Phase 3: Correct the course and sustain the program. Routinely evaluate progress and evolving needs and adjust plans and implementation accordingly.


Many campuses across the nation have already incorporated some or many of the goals and strategies outlined in the guide. Others may find that the guide presents an effective and workable model for addressing sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence and stalking.


Download Addressing Gender-Based Violence on College Campuses from the website.


Learn more from OVW’s Protecting Students from Sexual Assault website.

Updated January 20, 2021