How to Leverage Social Media to Reduce Sexual Violence on Campus

Posted on 18 April 2017 |

Social media dominates the life of today's college student. According to the Pew Research Center, 89 percent of young adults aged 18 to 29 use social media, with 84 percent of these users active on Facebook, 37 percent on Instagram, 35 percent on Twitter, and 27 percent on Pinterest.

On average, 63 percent of Facebook users, 57 percent of Instagram users and 46 percent of Twitter users access their accounts at least daily.

With social media dominating how students communicate and learn about the world around them, these platforms offer unprecedented opportunities to reach out to young people and promote social change.

The Problem of Campus Sexual Violence

One area where these social media tools can be used to help is combating sexual violence on campus. According to one study prepared for the National Institute of Justice, as many as one in five female students and one in sixteen male students could be sexually assaulted while in college.

And in a separate university study, 63.3 percent of male students who self-reported actions that could be considered rape or attempted rape admitted to committing these acts multiple times.

What Can Social Media Do?

Awareness

Social media, whether via the school's official account or those managed by individual students or campus groups, can help to promote awareness of this terrible issue. This month, in fact, is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, an annual campaign that is managed by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) and intended to help prevent sexual violence.

The campaign, which ties together various schools, businesses, and community organizations, offers a number of social media tools intended to help create awareness of this growing issue. Using their personal profiles, students, faculty, and university staff can foster conversations surrounding the issue and better address some of the root causes and social norms that allow sexual violence to exist.

Education

In the past few years, a growing number of U.S. adults -- roughly 62 percent -- have begun to get their news from social media. With so many Americans, including college students, turning to these platforms to inform their worldview, social media offers an ideal venue to educate students on how to react if they or someone they know is the victim of sexual violence.

These profiles can also be used to disseminate information on how to build healthy romantic relationships or how bystander intervention can help prevent incidents before they occur.

Reporting

Given the sensitive nature and frequent sense of personal guilt associated with sexual violence, these crimes often go unreported to police. Some common reasons cited include a reluctance for the victim to have their friends or family learn of the attack, concerns that there will be insufficient evidence to support the claim, and even the fear of being treated hostilely by the police.

In light of this tendency, consider having your school establish an online social presence that allows students to report assaults to themselves or others anonymously. Of course, any reports provided this way would need to be handled delicately and follow school policy, offering all parties involved due process.

Support

One study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(CDC) found that 81 percent of female rape victims and 35 percent of male victims experienced significant short-term or long-term physical and mental repercussions, such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). To help your students deal with these sometimes overwhelming experiences, create school-sponsored online discussion groups that can connect victims with counseling services and other survivors.

What Can You Do Beyond Social Media?

Obviously, all of these avenues have a real-world analogue that can be pursued to help protect your students and campus. Your school can host on-campus discussions and seminars that address these issues and supplement these one-off events with regular sexual harassment and sexual violence training for students and faculty.

Establish campus policies surrounding sexual violence along with anonymous reporting tools for concerned or victimized students. Offer on-campus counseling services and support groups for students that have been assaulted, or coordinate with off-site resources, communicating their availability to the student body on a regular basis.

There are a host of actions -- both in the real and virtual worlds -- that your campus can take to create a safer community for your students and faculty.

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