Even with sexual harassment, misconduct, and abuse on the national radar, we were disappointed to learn last week that many students still don’t feel confident that their higher education institutions will take a report of sexual misconduct or assault seriously. This was a key finding in the Association of American Universities’ confidential online survey of 180,000 students at 33 major universities, which demonstrated that higher education students today significantly experience sexual harassment, misconduct, and abuse.
So how can campuses and workplaces overcome barriers to reporting and make campuses healthier?
First, change the perception that campuses won’t act on the problem. So much has to go right for a survivor to come forward and report, and many considerations include whether the system will take the report seriously, act on the information, and hold the person who caused harm accountable. With Title IX changes hanging in the balance, it’s vital campuses do more, not less, than what the requirements dictate.
Second, address a campus culture that enables harm and blames the victim for their rape. Programming that teaches students to not be victimized with messages like never leave a drink unattended or don’t walk home alone, may reduce risk factors, but more can be done on campuses to teach healthy behaviors and relationships, ways to look out for each other, and how the community can hold the university accountable to its role in the process. In our society, girls are taught to avoid risky situations, but rarely do parents, schools, or programs talk about what consent means — which could help ensure no one pressures someone sexually, or crosses the line into even more serious sexual harm.
Third, deepen understanding of perceptions and attitudes about sexual harassment, misconduct, and abuse on campus. For example, conducting climate surveys and establishing processes for sharing procedures and protocols can help school administrators develop tailored prevention solutions and measure its progress.
Fourth, engage students and the campus community through programming that encourages them to learn about this sexual violence and how to be part of the solution. These prevention conversations could take place during classroom electives or campus activities with organizations like campus police, student health centers, and LGBTQ groups.
Thankfully, there are several good organizations that are already leading changes and conversations about sexual assault and respect on campus. It’s On Us is preparing campus leaders to take this issue on with skills and support. RALIANCE impact grantees Strength United or the Power Up! program at Prairie View A&M University are both working with athletic departments and student-athletes to improve how their schools prevent and respond to sexual harassment, misconduct, and abuse. For more ideas, check out RALIANCE’s Sport + Prevention Center and Impact Grant database.