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« Free Speech Issues On Campus Op-Ed | Main | Students First: Graduate Students and Unionization (Or Not) »
Tuesday
Apr252017

Higher Education’s Hidden Cost: Sexual Violence across College Campuses

Sexual violence is a widespread problem for college communities. Colleges and universities are spending more time, effort and finances on harassment and sexual assault concerns than ever before.  Higher education related claims of harassment, discrimination, and sexual violence cost colleges and universities millions of dollars.  For smaller colleges in particular, losing a lawsuit can be catastrophic.  Sexual violence across college campuses persists across all racial and ethnic groups, sexual orientations, and gender identities. 

The manner in which colleges and universities handle allegations of sexual assault has been the subject of increasing attention and controversy as shown in Doe v. Brown University.  Typically, when you hear about sexual assault cases, the discussion centers on victims and the rights of the accused. However, campus leaders are growing increasingly concerned about the financial impact on institutions. United Educators reviewed 1,000 incidents of campus sexual assault and found that, in cases with litigation, the claims can cost institutions an average of $350,000.

In 2008, the American College Health Association (ACHA) recognized sexual violence as a “serious campus and public health issue.”  The ACHA developed a toolkit, Shifting the Paradigm: Primary Prevention of Sexual Violence, to provide facts, ideas, strategies, conversation starters, and resources to everyone on campus.  The emphasis is to encourage prevention activities before sexual violence has occurred as there is a plethora of information, tools and resources currently available for intervention after sexual violence. Strategies to raise awareness of this growing concern are ever increasing with the addition of conferences and forums such as the 2017 NASPA Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Conference: A NASPA Strategies Conference, that was held in January 2017. 

Most legislative efforts are mandates requiring campuses to put considerable resources towards responding to reports of sexual violence and adjudicating them. We call on postsecondary institutions to move beyond reactionary, compliance focused mandates to innovative and inclusive initiatives to prevent sexual violence.  A study conducted at Indiana University demonstrates that sexual assault is a predictable outcome of a synergistic intersection of both gendered and seemingly gender neutral processes operating at individual, organizational, and interactional levels. 

Students, faculty and staff across campuses have also become increasingly involved in prevention efforts.  Sustainable prevention of sexual violence requires organizational and cultural change that is supported by senior leadership, including presidents, boards, vice-presidents, and deans. Many institutions have implemented a strategy of violence prevention called Green Dot.  The primary mission of Green Dot is the reduction of power-based personal violence. Bystander intervention, which empowers students to take action when they observe behaviors related to sexual violence, can engage the larger campus community in sexual violence prevention.

Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 requires schools to combat sex discrimination in education.  The Department of Education explicitly warns institutions that they must investigate any claims of sexual misconduct on campus, regardless of if a criminal investigation has not reached a conclusion. This also allows colleges and universities to act quickly to protect students, ensure a safe campus and also respond to survivors’ needs that go unaddressed by the criminal justice system under Title IX.  For many survivors, campus reporting is their only option.  They do not want to go through a trial, fear retaliation or face skepticism from the public, or parties involved in the legal process.  In order to protect themselves and avoid costly legal implications, institutions need to competently investigate allegations of sexual assault.

All students have the right to learn in environments that are free from sexual violence. Each and every one of us within a campus community have an ethical responsibility to create and maintain safe and equitable learning environments for all students.  Sexual violence is a social justice issue that requires a holistic and comprehensive approach.  Campuses should provide varied and layered opportunities for education to increase awareness, knowledge, and skills when it comes to sexual violence prevention. Positive and developmentally appropriate messaging should be integrated throughout a comprehensive prevention effort.   Effective prevention education reaches students through multiple entry points throughout the student experience.

This post was co-authored by Ms. Naomi Hansen and Dr. David Nguyen. Ms. Hansen is Director of Marketing and Communications at the University of North Dakota School of Graduate Studies and a masters student in the UND Higher Education program.

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Reader Comments (7)

This is such an important topic on campuses across the nation and one that is receiving a lot of attention, as well it should. It is very costly to keep our students safe, but also worth the investment. It is more productive to be proactive and not reactive in this area, which could help to avoid expensive litigation later. In addition to the education that should be provided to the employees of the campus, a program of study integrated into our student's learning processes is very important. Unfortunately, there is no one place that every student will visit or one class they will all take to be sure that this is happening, nor should this be something that comes up freshmen year just once. The "Safe College" workshops that are integrated into UND's system are a checked box, but not as effective as other options could be. There is still much work to be done here. Good Job Naomi!

April 26, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterTina Monette

In addition to the tragedy of sexual assault on victims this article sheds light on the other aspects of sexual violence and assault on college campuses related to costs from litigation and noncompliance. This fits into our research on the legal literacy of educators and institutions and the importance of educating future educators and professionals in higher education in law education as a preventative and proactive measure to avoiding and decreasing the amount of sexual assaults but also avoiding litigation.

April 26, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterHeather Helgeson

Great topic, Naomi! I think many people are concerned about preventing assaults from occurring that the economic aspect of this issue is often overlooked. If colleges and universities were more proactive in preventing such crimes from occurring, it would not only put an end to the trauma that the victim endures (which should be the primary reason why sexual assault crimes should be stopped), but time, money and other resources would be saved on behalf of the institutions. You included some great examples, too!

April 30, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterTara Lulla

In addition to focusing on victims rights, there has been an increased focused on the rights of the accused. A large part of costs come from lengthy appeals processes and lawsuits that are a result procedural error. I wonder wether there would be a reduction in cost if there was a standard of procedure that all schools had to (and actually did) abide by.

May 3, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterAbbey Lane

I think the landscape in American higher education continues to evolve with this topic. It seems to me that there are so many services available to those who have been victims. It would be great if we could find more and better ways to form intentional relationships between the professionals who can help and regular students. Relationships should be in place before an incident, not just afterward.

May 5, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterIsaac Hale

Great post Naomi! This is a very important topic to discuss. I agree with Isaac that I'm hoping that as the climate continues to go towards support services, that more prevention services start to appear.

May 5, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterLindsay Stack

Though I believe that campuses have done a better job at training faculty and staff on sexual assault and violence prevention, I don't believe that the message is reaching the audience it needs to. There needs to be more of an effort to train students through creative avenues such as role playing and class curriculum to help prevent the actual acts from happening, and not just being proactive about handling the crime after. This will help with increasing the report of these cases, for most of them (Upwards of 95%) go unreported.

May 9, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJeffrey Benike

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