Sexual violence prevention efforts recognized

by Sunny Drescher | 4/13/18 2:45am

Dartmouth has been ranked in the top 6 percent of institutions nationally for best practices for sexual violence prevention based on an assessment by educational technology company EVERFI. Representatives from EVERFI came to Hanover on Apr. 4 to report the assessment and present the Campus Prevention Network’s Prevention Excellence Award, which was awarded to the College in July 2017.

The award and ranking were based on a Sexual Assault Diagnostic Inventory conducted by EVERFI at nearly institutions around the country, according to Student Wellness Center associate director and Sexual Violence Prevention Project director Amanda Childress. Dartmouth completed the inventory in 2016 and was one of five institutions to receive the award in 2017.

“It was really validating to hear some of the prevention experts from EVERFI highlighting the good work that’s being done here around preventing sexual assault,” Wellness Center director Caitlin Barthelmes said. “It led into a conversation about what’s next for us and how we can continue to improve.”

The diagnostic survey focused on three primary categories: institutionalization, which considers how involved the institution is in implementing practices and what its priorities are; programming, which examines the reach of programs and whether they are founded in best practices; and process, which identifies what policies are being implemented and if they are effective.

EVERFI’s assessment looked at how different institutions used and implemented best practices of prevention.

There is a limited body of research on effective sexual violence prevention practices, so the criteria for best practices are based on general prevention theory, Childress said. She added that these practices include developing a comprehensive strategy, educating and training staff and students involved in prevention, tailoring programming to the particular needs of a community, providing consistent “dosages” of programming and “working on changing behaviors and not just increasing knowledge gains.”

Both Barthelmes and Childress emphasized that there is still work to be done regarding sexual violence prevention, citing persistently high rates of sexual violence on campus.

In 2015, a study on sexual violence commissioned by the American Association of Universities reported that one in four undergraduate women at Dartmouth had experienced sexual violence while at the College. Two years later, Dartmouth conducted another survey on sexual assault and misconduct, which found that rates of sexual violence were similar to or higher than in 2015. This could be due to a number of factors, including heightened awareness of what is defined as sexual violence, more trust in available resources for victim reporting or an actual increase in prevalence rates, according to the Office of Institutional Research.

Although these numbers indicate more work needs to be done, collecting this initial data was a necessary step towards determining how to measure the success of the best practices being implemented, according to Barthelmes.

Established as part of Moving Dartmouth Forward, the Sexual Violence Prevention Project, which aims to reduce sexual violence at the College through a four-year prevention and education experience, will use this research to create an initial baseline, because there has been no “consistent or comprehensive way of tracking incidents of sexual violence,” Childress said.

Barthelmes said that this part of the process is important in the SVPP’s development so that staff and students can discern if sexual violence rates are truly increasing or if the data is merely a result of increased reporting. Before the SVPP is able to assess the outcomes of their prevention practices, those involved must learn what practices are most effective.

Senior associate dean of student affairs and advisor to the Student Presidential Committee on Sexual Assault Liz Agosto said it is “counterintuitive” that increased reporting numbers is a sign of success.

“I think for people that doesn’t always feel good, but I hope that it means students feel more comfortable,” Agosto said.

Agosto, Barthelmes and Childress all emphasized the increasingly important role of the greater Dartmouth community in combating issues of sexual violence on campus.

Student groups have increased their presence on campus by facilitating discussions about sexual violence and serving as peer advocates, Childress said. To improve reporting, faculty and staff are also being trained on how to respond to disclosures from students.

Director of Prevention Education for Movement Against Violence Michael Harteveldt ’19 said he is currently designing a curriculum that will address specific needs of groups with whom MAV works, which will echo the best practice of avoiding a “one-size-fits-all” model.

“It often comes down to survivors, mainly women, to shoulder a lot of the burden, and I think it’s very important for other demographics to get involved,” Harteveldt said.

Sexual assault peer ally Mae Hardebeck ’18 also expressed a desire to further integrate existing sexual violence prevention groups within the Dartmouth community and to improve connections with other students.

“A lot of times people who get involved in sexual violence work and gender-based violence work are self-selecting, and of course we want to expand that circle out because these groups should be representative of all students,” she said.

To highlight community contributions thus far in Dartmouth’s efforts towards sexual violence prevention, students and staff involved in SVPP were invited to attend EVERFI’s presentation to learn about how their work contributed to Dartmouth’s efforts and where Dartmouth stood compared to other institutions in terms of best practices, Childress said. Members from various groups including MAV, SPCSA and SVPP’s Student Advisory Board were in attendance.

“One of the strengths of the SVPP and the work being done on this around campus is that it is giving us an opportunity to connect the dots,” Barthelmes said. “Much of this stuff was happening, but the best practice in part is in the connection, the comprehensive, the collaboration across campus of different stakeholders.”