Sexual assault in schools and at colleges and universities is a major concern. For decades, the research has consistently indicated that sexual violence at colleges is a pervasive issue, as more than 1 in 8 college students experience sexual assault (AAU, 2019). Many other sexual assault survivors are assaulted before they even reach college age. It is critical that experts in the sexual violence field, activists, educators, and higher education administrators now work together to combat rape culture and prevent sexual assault before it happens.

Additionally, with requirements from the Department of Education, as well as the VAWA Amendments to the Clery Act (AKA the Campus SaVE Act), there are now more requirements than ever for colleges to engage in prevention activities. There are also regulations guiding sexual assault prevention and consent education in K-12 schools. More information about these curriculum requirments can be found in the Maryland Comprehensive Health Education Framework. While these requirements can seem daunting, the central tenets of prevention for students are the same as those for any population.

School prevention programs should follow a few guidelines:

Prevention programs need to be comprehensive.

In brief, this means schools must engage in a broad variety of activities. One model that is frequently used to discuss the range of activities in prevention work is the social-ecological model. This model illustrates different levels of our social order that prevention programs need to target in order to be effective. The spectrum of prevention provides some additional considerations for institutions engaging in prevention work.

You can stop looking for the perfect program—because there is no such thing as a cure-all “program in a box.”

Programs need to be tailored to your community and your concerns. There are a number of tools that can be used to help identify these concerns, including campus climate surveys, focus groups, and evaluations from prevention events and educational workshops. Research shows that youth of color, homeless youth, youth with disabilities, and LGBTQ youth are more likely to experience sexual violence. Programs must address the needs of your students and represent communities that are most adversely affected by sexual violence.

Programs ≠ Workshops. Programs > Workshops.

While it’s common to use “prevention workshop” and “prevention program” as synonyms,  a school’s comprehensive prevention program needs to be bigger than just a workshop or workshop series. The 9 principles of effective prevention programs are one tool that can be helpful when considering the scope that’s necessary for programs to be effective: comprehensive, varied teaching methods, sufficient dosage, theory driven, positive relationships, appropriately timed, socioculturally relevant, well-trained staff, and outcome evaluation. In particular, the concepts of sufficient dosage and saturation should encourage colleges to implement expansive, ongoing prevention work. Instead of focusing on “one-and-done” workshops during orientation for new students, schools should be conducting continuous programming for all students throughout the academic year. Not familiar with the 9 principles? Check out Prevent Connect's Building Blocks of Prevention Web Course that can help you get started!

Prevention work should be integrated into the life and culture of your institution.

Preventing sexual assault requires the normalization of frank discussion, policy changes, online resources, physical space improvements including awareness materials and renovation of sexual violence “hot spots,” discussion groups, invited speakers, and more. Social marketing campaigns are one effective tool, and are particularly impactful options when they’re promoted by influential messengers on your campus, including leaders of prominent student groups, athletic teams, and Greek system organizations. Be creative, and identify other groups on your campus that can make a difference—such as a cappella, theater, or pre-med and pre-law societies. MCASA also launched a new prevention tool for colleges and universities titled 'Environmental and Situational Strategies for Sexual Violence Prevention: A Practitioners’ Guide to Leveraging Evidence for Impact on College Campuses.' To learn more about this project, visit our Environmental and Situational Prevention page

This is a big conversation, and there are many nuances to discuss.

Sometimes, it can feel overwhelming trying to tackle the issue of school sexual assault. “Where do I even begin?” is a commonly-heard refrain. It can be tempting to stick to concepts that seem directly related, such as the incidence of sexual violence or how bystanders can prevent potential sexual assaults from taking place. But there’s a broad range of topics that should be addressed, including healthy relationships, communication skills, consent education, and healthy sexuality.

Prevention programming needs to start early. 

To reduce the incidence of sexual assault in college, K-12 schools must introduce students to concepts like consent at an early age. In fact, age-appropriate instruction on the meaning of consent is required in public K-12 schools in Maryland. CDC data indicates that 34.9 percent of female rape victims and 30 percent of male rape victims first experience rape between the ages of 11 and 17. Other studies show that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 13 boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18. Beginning prevention programming at an early age will not only help to protect children and adolescents from sexual assault and abuse, but will better equip them for college and help reduce the incidence of sexual violence throughout the lifespan. Colleges and universities should work with their local school districts to try to bring sexual assault prevention education to local k-12 students. For more information on preventing child sexual abuse, click here.