A student who wishes to remain anonymous has taken multiple Women’s Studies courses including an independent study this semester, the capstone project for which involves not just one but two blog entries for us. He has worked with WMST faculty member Dr. Trish Oberweis on Sexual Assault Prevention research for the university and has done two independent study courses focusing on in depth research of issues surrounding sexual assault. He will be graduating this weekend with a major in Criminal Justice and Sociology. Congratulations! Without further ado, I yield the floor for the first of his two blog entries.
–Alison Reiheld, Director of SIUE Women’s Studies
It is assumed and expected that prevention programs should be reducing sexual assault, but the critical question that not many talk about is: Should the main objective be increasing awareness in the hopes that women will be encourage to report instead of focusing on reducing sexual assault or should the goal be to achieve both prevention and awareness? Is it possible to completely abolish sexual assault on college campuses? The massive amount of underreporting doesn’t support this. Universities like Southern Illinois University Carbondale received a bad rapport for providing effective programming when their statistics of reports go up after an academic year of improved programming. Is it possible that you can achieve both effectiveness and awareness, and is there a cap on how far steps can be taken for legislators, faculty, staff, and students to fix the proposed problem?
Students are missing the rich and connective programming that combines all concepts of different style programs, and it makes it difficult for them to have an active role in prevention. The “It’s On Us” campaign recently launched and is booming across the nation for bystander prevention. It is fantastic that we are talking about these topics, committing to change, and having one constant avenue for information nationally. The collaboration on a national level is phenomenal.
The buzzing talk through research, literature, and campus politics seeks to find campuses that are doing it “right”. Campuses across the nation without a doubt need to offer more programming and various types of programs that target all groups. They need more literature, surveys, statistics, and data from campuses and researchers. Traditional reactive programs should be minimized. Women do need tools to protect themselves, but men and peers need to be just as involved. The focus needs to be on the perpetrator in addition to the victim. There should also be an emphasis of why it is wrong to sexually assault someone. There needs to be better engagement. Campuses, programs, and trainings are not grabbing the attention of students, especially schools that think their campuses do not have a problem.
It is important to create a message to the receiver that this is a real danger that is drastically underreported. Engagement needs to be readjusted for students to get them to want to learn about these issues and take an active part in helping to advocate for change.
The main goal of preventative programs is to make students aware of the problem and to give them to tools to prevent sexual assault from occurring. Awareness and effectiveness are just as equally important. The issue is that it is hard to prove effectiveness because of lack of reporting, but it is quite simple to suggest the increase in awareness. Before programming can be shown to be effective, there must be recorded data that awareness of the problem is increasing. The biggest problem that researchers struggle with is backing up their research with effective statistics. It is difficult to prove the effectiveness of programming when it is scarcely surveyed or documented. There is research that backs up the effectiveness through surveyed data that behavior and attitudes change post programming. There is a hairline decrease in reports of sexual assaults, but it is not enough to conclude that the reason why it is decreases is because of programming.
It may not be possible to find out if sexual assault is decreasing besides looking at reported data. There is error that people could simply be deterring more from going to the police. The length of time that information is retained is the problem for awareness of the issues of sexual assault and the willingness to take steps to prevent it. Participants in programs can be tracked for their progress in awareness or required to refresh their skills annually or in some other time frame, but ultimately, there is not a lot of research that suggests that awareness is constant or a permanent life change for most participants. There is also not a strong link to what specific program or programming combination causes students to retain the information consistently over time.
There is a scarce amount of research on the documented change of attitudes and awareness over an extended period post preventative programming. Therefore, researchers are not sure if the behavior is continued throughout the college experience and for how long the behavior lasts post
attending programs. The majority of the new sexual assault research of preventative programs focuses on how a particular program increases awareness, specifically bystander-peer programs, and hopefully as a result becomes effective in reducing sexual assault. Reactive and proactive strive for awareness that is very similar. If we make men aware of the ways in which they can participate and prevent then they are more likely to strive to prevent it. If we make women more aware of their risk, they learn how to defend themselves and utilize tools to protect themselves and their peers.
It is a lot to take in, isn’t it? Sometimes it feels hopeless, like no one is committed to figure out the mystery of underreporting. You have people like myself who are devoted to figuring out how we can reduce sexual assault. So what is best and what keeps me advocating? Universities are given handfuls of valuable information that every campus needs to create a foundation and model for sexual assault prevention. Most importantly, the rich experiences are gained through campus community involvement and commitment on a smaller scale. Evaluating what a particular campus needs to grow and thrive is essential to the success of any sexual assault prevention methods on college campuses. The hope is that through a variety of sexual assault prevention programming, campuses can encourage their students to report, increase knowledgeable evaluation of how each person can play a part in prevention, and building a community based on a set of principles and values. Even though researchers struggle with proving effectiveness, I am sure that creating programs that build a connection between a student and the university values will create positive change in regards to sexual assault prevention.
I advocate because I have been a victim and I have many friends who have been victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. Every situation is unique, complex, and misunderstood. My passion is for victim advocacy and retribution. When I research, advocate, and talk about sexual assault prevention I think about how, if I can just open up one assailant’s prospective or if I can get at least one victim to report in this mass of people that I am lecturing, then I am doing my job. I am impacting a life, and changing the world one person at a time.
I cannot do it alone, though, and that is the point. It’s on all of us. We are so focused on the bigger goal that we are not thinking about how we can each individually make an impact.