Sexual Assault Prevention: Evaluation of Current Campus Practices and Next Steps for Intervention

Sexual assault on college campuses is a public health problem that most recently has come to national attention with the formation of the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault in 2014. In addition, in 2008 the American College Health Association’s Position Statement on Preventing Sexual Violence on College and University Campuses called for campuses to take action with regard to sexual violence prevention. While many school-based educational intervention programs to prevent sexual assault exist, few have demonstrated empirical support in college settings. A recent review identified that 92% of 4-year public universities and 75% of 4-year private non-profit universities offer primary prevention programs, many of which are not currently represented in the literature. Given that there is limited evidence for effective sexual assault prevention programming and campuses have developed their own educational strategies outside of these effective programs, additional data are needed to evaluate current campus-based educational practices in order to inform new strategies or enhancements to existing programs.

Stemming from this need for increased evaluation of current practices and development of new strategies/enhancements to existing programs, the current project included two aims:

Aim 1: Conduct secondary data analysis of the longitudinal effects of University of Michigan’s (UM) current sexual assault prevention program, Relationship Remix, to determine whether the program produces meaningful changes in knowledge, skills, and intentions at the individual level.

Aim 2: Use a participatory research framework to conduct focus groups/interviews with UM students to inform how to best develop and/or adapt prevention programming for this campus setting.

Principal Investigator: 
Erin E. Bonar
Department: 
Psychiatry
Timing: 
2015 - 2016
Abstract Text: 
In Aim 1, we conducted analyses among 2,305 first-year UM students. Participants were 55.1% female, 70.7% White, and 90.6% heterosexual. The 1.5-hour Relationship Remix program was delivered in September–November, 2015. Students completed web-based surveys immediately before and after attending the program. On 8 of 10 survey items assessing program-related knowledge and attitudes, students reported significantly more favorable responses at post-test. For example, students reported greater awareness of campus resources, ability to define consent, and confidence in communicating with partners. In Aim 2, a total of 35 participants completed a mixed-gender focus group (n=5), all-female focus group (n=5), all-male focus group (n=6), in-person interview (n=8), or phone interview (n=11). Sample demographics resembled characteristics of the Fall 2015 freshman class (e.g., 48.6% male; ~ 60% of White, Non-Hispanic race/ethnicity).3 All data has been transcribed and checked for accuracy. Key themes were coded independently by two raters using NVivo 11. Findings demonstrate that, as part of prevention programming, UM students welcome and desire opportunities to openly and seriously discuss sexual assault. Specifically, students envision a new program providing a safe space for questions and processing situations they have seen or heard about on campus. These discussions should be in-person, in small, mixed-gender groups or one-on-one, and may be led by a relatable peer who understands campus life. Including survivor testimonies was mentioned as one way to enhance program engagement. Aim 1 Immediately after receiving Relationship Remix during their first semester of college, students demonstrated favorable changes in attitudes and knowledge areas that were targeted by the program (e.g., values-based decision making, knowing how to ask for consent, relationship communication skills), supporting the initial efficacy of this program. The largest shift was seen with regard to awareness of campus resources; a hard copy list of these resources was provided to students by the program facilitators. Relationship Remix appears to hold promise as one element of a multi-component campus prevention strategy, which may work in tandem with other prevention strategies to produce changes in attitudes that could impact future behaviors related to promoting healthy relationships and preventing sexual assault. Aim 2 As part of their sexual assault prevention programming, students welcome and desire opportunities to openly and seriously discuss the issue of sexual assault. These discussions could be in small, mixed-gender groups or one-on-one, and could be led by a relatable peer who understands the dynamics of campus life. There is a need for future work to develop and examine whether discussion-oriented prevention programming – perhaps in tandem with complementary evidence-based prevention approaches – could be an effective means of changing the knowledge, attitudes and behaviors of college undergraduates regarding sexual assault. The students in our sample did not perceive UM to notably differ from other college campuses with regards to the social life, culture around sex, or identified risk factors for sexual assault, enhancing the potential generalizability of these findings beyond UM to other campuses. In light of the alarming prevalence of campus sexual assault and its significant burden on affected individuals and society more broadly, effective primary prevention programs can dramatically reduce the incidence of this avoidable and costly public health problem. Our initial evaluation of Relationship Remix provides critical data for larger-scale efficacy testing of this psychoeducational prevention programs in college settings. Furthermore, the program format described by undergraduates in Aim 2 starkly contrasts the format of many existing campus sexual assault prevention programs, which are either administered online, incorporate humor, or indirectly touch on the issue of sexual assault. Future work is needed to develop and examine whether in-person, discussion-based primary prevention programs could lead to sustained decreases in sexual assault perpetration and victimization rates on college campuses.
PI Title: 
Assistant Professor