College Consortium: Hotspot Mapping as Community Prevention on Campus

Jan 07th, 2020

By: Grace Fansler Boudreau, MPH  Prevention & Education Program Coordinator

In this article, we examine how a community level approach to sexual violence prevention can be utilized to shift the campus environment through policy, physical, or social norms change in positive ways.

The 2016 STOP SV package from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) outlines several evidence-based approaches to preventing sexual violence.  Currently, the CDC is encouraging organizations working towards sexual violence prevention to shift from using strategies that intervene on the individual and relationship level of the social-ecological model to interventions that are at the community and/or societal level.  Addressing prevention at the community level involves strategies that impact the social and/or physical environment.  One of these strategies promoted by the CDC is Creating Protective Environments.

Several approaches can be used to improve environmental safety, including hotspot mapping.  Hotspot mapping is an evidence-informed approach that can be used to determine where community members feel safe and unsafe in their communities. Using a map, participants identify spaces in a community that are “hot” or high-risk for safety concerns, and “cold” or low-risk for safety concerns. Often by identifying “hot” spaces, environmental safety can be improved upon.

For example, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment sponsored a hotspot mapping intervention in Eagle County Charter Academy.  Middle school students mapped out safe places in their school, like a classroom with a friendly teacher, or unsafe spaces, like a hallway corridor lacking adult supervision.  The female students in particular identified not feeling protected in the girls’ locker room because the privacy curtain did not completely cover the doorway and male students could see in.  Thanks to hotspot mapping this issue was identified and corrected.

Williams College, a small liberal arts college in the north-east, used hotspot mapping to identify the perceived and actual safety of campus social spaces.  They provided information on sightlines, soundscapes, crowd density, locating friends, and alcohol consumption in various spaces on campus where parties are hosted.  Students also provided their perceptions of the layout of physical spaces on campus.  This information was used to form recommendations on how to possibly alter unsafe spaces to prevent unwanted sexual touching and other forms of sexual violence.  One recommendation was to no longer have student housing in basement dorms.

Communities are vital to developing successful prevention strategies.  Hotspot mapping is a strategy that engages the community and results in participant-driven recommendations for creating a more protective environment.  This strategy is an excellent way to create college campuses that are safer from sexual violence.

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