5 High-Impact Steps Schools Can Take to Stop Sexual Violence

5 High-Impact Steps Schools Can Take to Stop Sexual Violence

Posted on 1 May 2014 |

Student-led activist groups have been a powerful force in the recent movement against sexual violence. With a stunning ability to mobilize and effectively use social media, they have brought this troubling issue into the White House and onto the national stage.

As colleges and universities are working to revise their policies and procedures to comply with the Campus SaVE Act by October 2014, many of them are looking for better ways to educate and equip their students with the skills to put an end to sexual violence.

The government is helping with new information, toolkits, and resources for administrations under their Not Alone initiative (our resource page is here). We’ve put together some key ways to incorporate and expand on those efforts, plus resources to use in your school’s programs.


1. Determine the Scope of Your School’s Problem

With sexual assault being one of the most underreported crimes, it’s hard to get a national picture of how bad things are, let alone know what’s happening on your campus. Anonymous online surveys of the campus climate are part of the White House’s recently released recommendations. Doing them every semester as a requirement for graduating seniors only takes a few moments. Not only will the data improve our national understanding and approach to addressing this critical issue, but it will allow individual schools to measure the effectiveness of implementing new training and education programs year over year.

  • NotAlone.com provides a Climate Survey Resource Document explaining the survey and includes steps for getting it implemented, as well as recommended sample questions and approaches to gathering this data. 

2. Consent Education

Consent isn’t just for intercourse. 84% of women experience sexually coercive behavior in their first four semesters at college. The sex education students receive before entering college is notoriously lacking in its ability to teach children about communication and consent in healthy relationships. If they don’t understand consent, they may not be able to recognize when their actions are non-consensual, have the communication skills to remove themselves from an uncomfortable situation, or even negotiate an existing relationship. Helping students understand and practice consent is a crucial part of creating a safe campus environment. There are great resources for education and awareness out there!

  • The Consensual Project “partners with schools and universities to bring students a fresh understanding of consent. The innovative curriculum, workshops, and website empower young people to incorporate consent into their daily lives.”
  • Driver’s Ed for the Sexual Superhighway: Navigating Consent is an excellent resource from Scarleteen with great information, examples, and tools to use whether you’re dealing with someone new or a long-term relationship.

3. Empowering Training For Male Students

The vast majority of men will never commit an act of sexual violence. In fact, David Lisak’s research has found that about 3% of the men account for 90-95% of campus rapes. Rather than treating male students as the problem, we can commit to equipping them to be advocates and allies who know how to use their strength to speak up and protect those around them.

4. Bystander Training

Teaching students to recognize coercive and dangerous situations and intervene effectively gives people the skills they need to help be part of the solution, whether it’s helping a friend who’s had too much to drink, giving a stranger at a party a safe escape from an uncomfortable situation, or knowing how to stop an attack in progress. Freshmen are the most vulnerable and least equipped part of the student body, and some schools are starting to integrate this training as a required part of orientation, as well as for special groups such as resident advisors and athletes. This training also carries over to helping students stop other forms of harassment and bullying.

  • The University of Vermont has developed this Bystander Intervention Playbook to teach simple, memorable strategies for intervention.
  • Innovative programs like UNC-Chapel Hill’s One Act train student activists who become peer educators. They deliver the four-hour training to small groups on request. They’ve even developed a special three-hour version for fraternities and sororities. It has shown positive results in its early stages, with participants seeing more opportunities to intervene and being much more likely to take action.
  • The University of New Hampshire instituted bystander intervention training after a 1987 assault, and have seen their rates of unwanted intercourse go down by almost 60% since then.


5. Partnering To Get Resources To People When They Need Them Most

If training and resources don’t reach students when they need to, these initiatives can’t have the impact we hope to see from them. Education and training for most of these initiatives can be accomplished in a few hours as part of a mandatory program for freshmen, so the most vulnerable students are prepared from the start. Campuses have unique groups that are already on the front lines and can help:

  • Counselors, Advisors, Residence Staff, and Campus Healthcare Providers: Train these employees to ask questions when they see warning signs, maintain confidentiality, communicate non-judgmentally, and know what the school’s procedures are so that they can connect students who have suffered violence with the resources you’ve already put in place.
  • Social Leaders: Groups like athletes and Greek organizations are highly visible and widely admired. They also have unusually high rates of assault associated with them. Implementing mandatory bystander and consent training for these groups helps address the problem and institutes an environment of group accountability. When these students model good behaviors to those who look up to them, the entire school benefits.
  • LGBT Students and Groups: LGBT students are far more likely to be bullied, harassed, and assaulted than other students. That bullying is often highly sexual and physical in nature. They face additional hurdles in reporting and seeking treatment due to prejudice, fear of being outed, and reporting systems that assume sexual violence is always male-on-female. Inclusive programs and special training for university staff to understand and respond to concerns unique to LGBT students are of the utmost importance, so that students brave enough to report an assault aren’t met with discrimination and further emotional damage.
  • Student Activists: They’re highly engaged and motivated people who are already spending their time and resources trying to help solve the problem. When they’re able to be active partners in a school’s anti-violence efforts, these students can help others access the school’s resources, find counselors, and educate their peers. 



Gross, A., Winslett, A., Roberts, M. & Gohm, C. (2006). An examination of sexual violence against college women. Violence Against Women, 12(3), 288–300.

Unwanted Sexual Experiences at UNH: 2012 Study and Changes Over Time. http://cola.unh.edu/sites/cola.unh.edu/files/departments/Justiceworks/use/84677USEReport.pdf

Winerip, Michael. Stepping Up to Stop Sexual Assault. The New York Times, Feb. 7, 2014.

West Virginia Foundation for Rape Information and Services http://www.fris.org/CampusSexualViolence/CampusSexViolence.html

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