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CU Boulder to Revamp Sexual Assault Prevention Programs

The school intends to increase its prevention measures—including education for incoming students. 

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After releasing the second and final round of results from its inaugural Sexual Misconduct Survey, the University of Colorado Boulder announced plans on Tuesday to update its prevention efforts by focusing on additional training for students.

The survey, which was completed by more than 13,000 students between October 19 and November 16, 2015, was the first of its kind at CU Boulder, and part of a larger effort to understand and improve upon how the university handles sexual misconduct. (CU is one of more than 120 colleges undergoing a Title IX investigation by the federal government for its handling of sexual assault and misconduct cases.) In February, the school released part one of its findings, which focused on the prevalence of these incidents, both on and off campus. Nearly one-third of female undergraduates reported that they had experienced sexual misconduct while at CU; the rate among men was six percent.

Phase two of the survey, the results of which were released Tuesday, focused on details about the misconduct—behaviors reported, tactics used, where it took place—as well as perpetrator characteristics, such as the gender, university affiliation, and relationship to the victim, and why incidents go unreported.

As a result of these findings (which can be found here), CU’s Office of Institutional Equity and Compliance will be implementing various training efforts to not only help prevent incidents of abuse, but also to teach students what constitutes sexual misconduct and how to identify perpetrator behavior. OIEC executive director and Title IX coordinator Valerie Simons says new students can expect mandatory online bystander intervention training, as well as a course (with an accompanying quiz) that covers the university’s policy on sexual misconduct, discrimination, harassment, and affirmative consent—all before setting foot on campus. Additional training will be offered to all students before returning to campus each fall.

By focusing on bystander intervention—which includes teaching students about perpetrator tactics, what to look for, high-risk environments, and how to intervene—Simons says students should be able to process the information in a non-threatening way, meaning they’ll receive sexual assault education that doesn’t ask women to consider themselves as potential victims or men as potential perpetrators (or vice-versa). The hope is that this method makes the uncomfortable topic more approachable.

Simons said the focus on education was largely motivated by the fact that 69 percent of respondents who reported sexual misconduct did not report the incident because they believed it wasn’t serious enough. (The same study said that 92 percent of sexual assault victims don’t formally report such incidents to the university or police.) This was true for all categories of sexual misconduct, including penetration.

“We really have to ensure that people understand when they’re in one of these situations so that they are coding it as a sexual assault and they’re encouraged to report it,” Simons says.

CU victims who report an on-campus incident can pursue remedial outcomes through campus police and/or the OIEC’s Remedial and Protective Measures unit, which was created in March to support victims of discrimination, harassment, or sexual misconduct. Representatives from this unit, headed by director Regina Tirella, can enact such no-contact orders or residential relocations to help victims avoid an alleged assaulter.

Simons says her office intends to continually develop their education and prevention strategies, as well as their knowledge of sexual misconduct at CU Boulder. She hopes to conduct new research every three years and employ focus groups and smaller surveys to delve deeper into the survey’s findings. “The data, which is really the first time the campus has ever done anything like this in a comprehensive way, are going to be used as a living tool to improve our efforts,” Simons says. “It is not going to end here.”

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