Sexual Assault on Campus: What We Can Do

By Nicole Greene, Acting Director, Office on Women’s Health

*Originally published on the Women’s Health blog on September 27, 2017″

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Content Warning: Sexual Assault

One in five undergraduate women (PDF – 282 KB) are sexually assaulted during college. When I think about that number, I want to change it so everyone is safe. This National Campus Safety Awareness Month, I encourage you to support the theme “Take the First Step” and work to create a safe campus.

The Office on Women’s Health is committed to preventing sexual assault on college and university campuses. That’s why we launched the College Sexual Assault Policy and Prevention Initiative. This initiative provides technical assistance and support for implementing sexual assault policies and prevention strategies on college campuses.

At just a year into the initiative, we’re encouraged by the programs being implemented around the country. Schools are conducting bystander intervention trainings that are focused on fraternity and sorority advisors. Others are offering awareness and prevention video resources. Some have been conducting trainings on trauma-informed responses for their staff and incorporating messages about consent and bystander intervention into fall festivals.

I’m personally excited about these programs and prevention activities because they address this issue from multiple angles: awareness, prevention, intervention, and response. Demonstrating to students that their schools are aware of this issue and care enough to provide these activities and resources is a huge step in the right direction. So, what else can we do to help prevent sexual assault?

What Communities Can Do

Education about sexual assault and consent begins long before college, in the messages children receive from their parents and other adults. We can plant the seed of consent and respect in children from an early age with this simple lesson: People should not touch each other without asking first. As children grow, the messages grow with them. We also all have a role in modeling respectful and consensual interactions, both sexual and nonsexual. In addition, community members should pay attention to their local and state policies and legislation, and they should advocate for positive change in support of sexual violence prevention efforts and effective reporting and supportive services for survivors.

What Colleges Can Do

Administrators, faculty, staff, and coaches must work with students to implement comprehensive prevention programs. Schools should consider teaching consent and healthy relationship/communication skills throughout the academic year, institute stricter intolerance policies on assault, and make it clear that sexual assault has no place in higher education.

What Students Can Do

Students have a large role in preventing sexual assault of others, too. If they see someone at risk for assault, they can help prevent it by using the C.A.R.E. bystander intervention technique: Create a distraction, Ask the person directly, Refer to an authority like a resident assistant or security guard, and Enlist others’ help.

Every person on campus has a role to play in eradicating sexual assault from universities and colleges. When your sons and daughters go off to college, remind them what respecting themselves and others looks like. After that, it’s up to them to make the right choices and for the colleges to support them.

This National Campus Safety Awareness Month, I encourage students, administrators, faculty, and coaches to take the first steps together to prevent sexual assault. For more info on preventing sexual assault, visit Sexual Violence on Campus: Strategies for Prevention (PDF – 3.5 MB) and STOP SV (PDF – 2.85 MB).


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Nicole Greene serves as Deputy Director for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office on Women’s Health (OWH) and acts as the primary advisor to the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Health — Women’s Health. A former Council for Excellence in Government Fellow and a graduate of the prestigious Leadership for a Democratic Society program through the Federal Executive Institute, Ms. Greene leads change management in the office. One of her first projects at OWH was to lead the restructuring of OWH, improving the efficiency and effectiveness by aligning the mission of the Office so it can better serve American women and girls. Read more here.

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Surviving Sexual Assault is Expensive

By LB Klein, MSW
*Read a response to this post from Dr. Patrick Brugh here*
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Surviving sexual assault is not only devastating to survivors’ bodies, minds, and spirits; it can also bankrupt them. Supporting survivors means thinking critically about how to alleviate the financial burden of being sexually assaulted. Economic justice is a critical component of building more survivor-supportive cultures.
Sexual assault survivors have bills and long-term financial losses. Those bills can start with the cost of medical care. Survivors may not even go to the hospital because their families cannot afford medical care or because they are concerned that a parent or guardian will receive the bill, forcing them to tell family members about the assault before they are ready. Vital mental health support, or transportation to get to no-cost or sliding scale services, costs money. Purchasing the morning-after pill or prophylaxis to fight sexually transmitted infections requires funds.  
These are just the immediate costs of navigating the health consequences of sexual assault. The long-term costs continue to add up. Survivors may need to treat a sexually transmitted infection, and some infections have lifelong costs, such as HIV. A survivor may become pregnant and could incur the cost of terminating the pregnancy or raising a child. Ongoing therapy bills pile up, or survivors may postpone mental health services because counseling is just too expensive. If survivors choose to report sexual assault or rape to the police, they incur costs in that process, from phone bills to talk to the police, to plane tickets to return to a former city of residence for a court date, to more significant expenses like hiring an attorney.

Moreover, trauma is costly. It is challenging enough to juggle work or school or care taking responsibilities without having survived trauma. Survivors miss work shifts, job interviews, final exams, study abroad opportunities because of the psychological toll of surviving sexual assault. If a survivor chooses to withdraw for the semester to take time to heal, their tuition, housing costs, and fees are rarely reimbursed. Many employers will not accommodate the time away that survivors might need to cope and heal. Seeking justice through a campus conduct or criminal legal system or seeking an order of protection takes time away from work or school. Delays in academics, employment, and promotion opportunities increase a survivor’s financial burden.
Due to fear of the perpetrator, lack of support, or debilitating symptoms of post-traumatic stress, survivors may drop out of school or be unable to continue in their jobs entirely. They may be fired. They may be expelled from school, or fail out. Survivors who are in romantic relationships with their perpetrators might also face ongoing abuse, including economic abuse. Losing opportunities at work or school may also make survivors more dependent on abusive partners or family members. Failing grades, not finishing a degree, or having a poor track record at work can then directly impact a survivor’s earning potential for the rest of her life.
Researcher Matt DeLisi estimated that each rape costs $151,423, which is compounded if survivors are repeatedly victimized (see: Costs, Consequences and Solutions). Survivors are charged for surviving rape, and those bills often continue long after the immediate aftermath of an incident. To build survivor-supportive communities, we must consider survivors’ needs holistically, including financial needs. To alleviate these costs, we must ensure survivors have swift access to accommodations such as changing classes or housing, shifting work schedules, taking time off to heal, access to medical and mental health services, and refunds on tuition. We must call on schools and employers to not only provide accommodations and support, but to provide them free of charge. We must agitate for survivors to have access to confidential survivor advocates or mental health benefits to help alleviate trauma and its associated financial costs. Beyond the initial aftermath of sexual assault, we must ensure that our schools, workplaces, and communities are invested in survivors’ financial well being for the long haul.
It is imperative that communities invest in preventing sexual assault. Until we can end violence, however, survivors will continue to face significant costs. In the meantime, we can at least work to create systems that keep survivors from being charged for surviving rape.

LB_KleinLB Klein, MSW is a Consultant and Lead Trainer for Prevention Innovations Research Center at the University of New Hampshire. She primarily builds the capacity of institutions of higher education and communities to implement the Bringing in the Bystander Program. She is based in Atlanta, GA and will begin pursuing a doctorate in the School of Social Work at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill this Fall.