Bold Moves to End Sexual Violence: Using Situational Prevention Strategies to Fight Campus Sexual Assault

We all know preventing sexual assault requires a comprehensive approach—individual, peer, community, environmental and policy. Yet college campus sexual assault prevention programs focus largely on individuals instead of environmental conditions, which could reduce perpetration opportunities.

To create safe, supportive environments for all people on campus, programming must consider how the campus environment impacts violence perpetration. This is especially true for the safety of marginalized and disenfranchised people on campus who may be especially susceptible to experiencing violence.

In short—when it comes to ending sexual violence, place matters. A lot.

Already widely adopted by colleges and universities for their alcohol and other drug harm reduction efforts, situational prevention marks a new approach to gathering and assessing environmental data to support decision-making on campus educational efforts, policy and the built environment related to reducing sexual and gender-based violence.

Enhancing Campus Sexual Assault Prevention Efforts through Situational Interventions is a working collaboration with three college campus partners: Duke University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Williams College. The project helps colleges identify and employ environmental strategies that can change physical, social and cultural factors that facilitate sexual and gender-based violence on campus. Drawing from the fields of criminology, public health (including environmental management strategies) and social justice, this project supports campuses in identifying situational prevention efforts that can complement existing campus sexual assault prevention strategies.

Duke University is piloting The Story Project, which invites students to craft the tapestry of experiences shared by women of color at Duke as project participants chronicle the encounters and perceptions of women of color in their social groups. While the stories gathered characterize the life of women of color at Duke, the storytellers and their peers will remain anonymous. Project participants will collaborate with Women’s Center staff to develop responsive programs and initiatives that reduce incidents of gender violence and sexual assault and that help survivors of gender violence and sexual assault heal.

MIT is addressing the social and environment conditions that put LGBTQ+ students at increased risk for sexual violence. The project team will define modifiable risk and protective factors that can impact sexual assault on campus, conduct a LGBTQ+ student-led exercise to map social and academic spaces at MIT and utilize a storytelling approach to communicate how LGBTQ+ MITers experience the environments in which they learn, socialize and live.

Williams College is focusing on the perceived and actual safety of campus social spaces, which students identify as a primary location for the experience of unwanted sexual touching. The project team developed a mapping methodology to collect both quantitative and qualitative dimensions of student experiences. Team discussions centered around on-campus event locations where parties are hosted, layout of physical space within buildings, dimensions described in student and staff conversations—including soundscape, sightlines, crowd density, locating friends, alcohol consumption—and the need to gather demographic student information. Recommendations will be suggested about how to potentially alter unsafe spaces to prevent unwanted sexual touching and victimization.

As we close in on a decade of increasing, long-overdue research attention and institutional focus on what works in preventing sexual assault, it is clear that while educating individual students and staff is important, it is not enough. It is time to widen our lens to consider the wider landscape of the physical and policy context as well. If we fail to do so, we’ll be missing half the picture.

Editor’s Note: We talked to Holly LIVE at NSAC 2018! Watch the video below to hear more from her on campus sexual assault prevention and find us on Facebook to watch more conversations from the conference.

About and

Holly Rider-Milkovich is the Senior Director of Prevention at EVERFI. She brings over two decades of experience in sexual violence prevention and response and in higher education to her role. 
Tammy Meredith, PhD, is a criminologist and founder of public policy research firm Applied Research Services. She focuses on developing innovative quantitative methods to inform and improve operational decisions.