Sexual violence prevention task force offers recommendations

By Kimber Williams | Emory Report | Nov. 6, 2014

Creating a university-wide advisory board to support data-driven, comprehensive and cohesive sexual violence prevention strategies is among a series of recommendations endorsed by the Sexual Violence Prevention Visioning Task Force, a multidisciplinary alliance between Emory and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The recommendations were part of a final report presented to the University Senate on Oct. 28 in response to a charge by Emory Provost Claire Sterk and Senior Vice President and Dean for Campus Life Ajay Nair, who convened faculty, staff and student leaders from across the university, along with a top behavioral scientist in the CDC's Division of Violence Prevention, to employ a public health approach in preventing sexual violence on campus.

The task force was convened in April, the same month that the White House released "Not Alone: The First Report of the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault," which outlined actions to help schools combat sexual assault on their campuses, where reports of sexual violence have been viewed with growing concern.

Studies indicate that on U.S. college campuses one in five women will experience rape, attempted rape or other forms of sexual assault during their academic years, with survivors facing acute and long-term health effects. Yet only 5 to 12 percent of sexual violence on campus is reported to police or other authorities, according to the Emory/CDC task force report.

Within their charge, the Sexual Violence Prevention Visioning Task Force was asked to offer recommendations on how the Emory community could best act in accordance with that White House report.

In addition to establishing a new university-wide Sexual Violence Prevention Advisory Board (SVPAB) and five related sub-committees, task force recommendations include:

  • Create and implement an annual climate survey
  • Develop ongoing assessment and program evaluation for prevention efforts in order to track progress
  • Add resources to ensure prevention programming reaches all members of the Emory community
  • Infuse prevention messaging into existing training programs
  • Reorient existing campus initiatives from compliance to prevention-based
  • Embed sexual violence prevention and sexual health promotion activities throughout a student's academic career
  • Proactively message sexual misconduct policies

The report also identifies expanded prevention strategies aligned with "success indicators" — goals that include raising student awareness of resources, services and knowledge of sexual violence risk factors.

"I'm grateful for the work of the task force in helping us create a plan to eradicate sexual violence on our campus," Nair says. "The ambitious goals of the task force will help us create best practice and lead courageously." 

Building on what works

Drawing from top academic and program-based expertise from across campus, the Sexual Violence Prevention Visioning Task Force began meeting in late May to provide substantive, timely, research-based findings.

"It's been a whirlwind, but we had such a dedicated group — everyone on the task force was already engaged in this work, committed to sexual violence prevention and response, which helped make our process run very smoothly," says Jessica McDermott Sales, associate research professor of behavioral sciences and health education, who co-chaired the task force with Jessica Hill, associate director for prevention strategies in the Office of Health Promotion, Campus Life.

One of their first actions was to circulate the White House Task Force report, which highlighted current research literature on sexual violence. "That helped guide our discussion around best practices," Sales says.

While sexual violence prevention research "is not yet a deep field," Sales says the task force also reviewed the effectiveness of prevention strategies in place at other colleges and universities.

The group was pleased to find that Emory already has a number of strong, targeted programs that address sexual violence prevention and survivor support, she notes (see chart below).

"Emory has a wealth of resources and people here committed to the work," Sales says. "It was good to know that we weren't coming at this from behind, racing to catch up. But like almost everywhere, there are many more things that could be done."

Through evaluating current campus strategies, "it became apparent there were a lot of different groups and people around the university who were taking on pieces of this — as a result data were being kept in several areas," Sales says.

"We'd like to see one place where all of that could be considered together to keep a pulse on what is happening to our climate, what is working in prevention, and what isn't."

In response to task force recommendations, the University Senate voted to create a Standing Committee for the Prevention of Sexual Violence, which will help consolidate campus prevention efforts and aid in ongoing assessments of both campus climate and program efficacy.

Expanded prevention strategies

Emory students will likely feel the most immediate impact of the task force recommendations through a new campus-wide climate survey — which could launch as early as this spring — that follows students throughout their academic experience, along with new, wide-reaching prevention strategies, Sales says.

"We survey our students for a variety of reasons, but a survey targeting campus climate and attitudes about sexual violence prevention is usually only connected to work done very early in their academic careers," she notes. "That doesn't capture the full university experience."

In addition, students will see an expansion of existing sexual violence prevention programming, efforts that Sales has praised. According to Emory's 2014 Annual Security and Fire Safety Report, incidents of forcible sex offenses fell on the main campus last year, from 25 in 2012 to 22 in 2013, a drop of about 12 percent. No crimes were reported in that category on the Oxford campus in 2013.

"While there are wonderful things that happen at Emory around awareness-building and getting people connected to resources, we also felt there was a clear path forward to enhance what we're doing around prevention, which is something that should begin even before students come to college," Sales says. "Yet, many students enter college without any sexual violence education."

Proposed prevention strategies will build upon what already works, with an emphasis on skill-building opportunities throughout the college experience, such as enhanced bystander education, engagement of men as allies, updated consequences for perpetrators, reduced high-risk alcohol use, and increased parent engagement.

"Sexual violence causes serious damage not only to those who are assaulted but to the entire community," says Provost Sterk. "The emphasis on prevention programming and messaging in these recommendations is transformative. If we can prevent assaults before they occur, we make Emory a safer community." 

Existing prevention strategies at Emory:

Haven: Every incoming student completes an online education module.

First-Year Orientation: Sexual Violence Prevention (SVP) education through orientation activities, such as "Creating Emory."

Sexual Assault Peer Advocates (SAPA): Response training to support survivors and raise awareness.

Greek 101: Training for new fraternity members on SVP-related policies and bystander intervention skills.

The Talk: Conversation with fraternity/sorority members about respect and communication during sexual encounters.

AlcoholEdu: Every first-year student completes this online education module.

SVP Education/Training: Offered through Health Promotion, Residence Life, Student Conduct, and other campus offices.


Proposed additional prevention strategies:

Bystander Intervention: Skill-building included in orientation activities for all incoming students.

The Talk: Conversation expands to other student populations; required for all new fraternity/sorority classes.

SVP Education/Training: Offered throughout a studentd throughout a eer.

Parent Engagement: Webinars, training opportunities for parents of first-year students to introduce campus initiatives and how they can become involved in prevention efforts.

Popular Opinion Leaders: Bystander intervention training offered to campus leaders; could also be trained to follow responsible alcohol serving policies.

Funding: To support a campus-wide bystander intervention campaign.

Campus Communications: Utilized to support SVP education, raise awareness.

Consistent Consequences/Perpetrator Accountability: Update Sexual Misconduct Policy 8.2 and Equal Opportunity and Discriminatory Harassment Policy with consequences for perpetrators.

Increased Visibility of Enforcement: Enforcement of policies to prevent underage drinking, driving under the influence.

Campus/Community Prevention Coalition: Coalition to encourage safe serving practices, response to alcohol-related incidents and concerns.

Interfraternity Council to suspend social events, create safety plan

Emory's Interfraternity Council will suspend social events in fraternity houses in order to focus on creating a comprehensive safety plan, Ajay Nair, senior vice president and dean of campus life, announced Nov. 2 in response to a reported rape on Eagle Row.

Nair announced the decision in a "Statement of Emory's Continuing Commitment to Create Change and Address Social Injustices in our Community" distributed via email to the entire university.

"As recent university notifications indicate, our basic Emory community principle of respect for others is violated on too many occasions. In response to the recent incident and other past reports of sexual assaults in fraternity houses, the Interfraternity Council (IFC) will suspend all social events in fraternity houses until a comprehensive plan is developed to ensure the safety of our community members," Nair said in the statement.

"Many of us joined the Emory community because we aspire to seek positive transformation in our own community and the world," he continued. "I ask for your support in ending sexual violence, acts of bias, and other social injustices that are antithetical to our notion of community."

The Emory Police Department is investigating a female victim's report that she was raped by a male student on Oct. 31, 2014, at approximately 10:30 p.m. at 18 Eagle Row. The victim said she is acquainted with the perpetrator, who is described as a white male, brunette, approximately 20 years of age, between 5 feet 8 inches and 5 feet 9 inches in height, medium build. A police investigation is ongoing. Anyone with information regarding this incident is encouraged to contact the Emory Police Department at 404-727-6111.

Nair's complete statement is available here.