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Research About Sexual Assault on Campuses: What NIJ Is Doing

Monday, April 6, 2015
By Bethany Backes with Lisa Fedina

Students on campus

The national discussion about preventing and addressing sexual assault on campus has heated up over the last year, especially after the White House announced a Task Force to Protect Students From Sexual Assault Not Alone: The First Report of the White House Task Force to Protect Students From Sexual Assault, January 2014 and after Rolling Stone published a controversial article about sexual assault on UVA's campus. A Rape on Campus: A Brutal Assault and Struggle for Justice at UVA, November 19, 2014.

NIJ has a strong working relationship with the White House Task Force and the other federal agencies working on this issue. We also listen to and participate in events sponsored by universities, campus security, and community groups. Doing so helps us ensure that NIJ's research is driven by the needs and concerns of those who benefit from the policies and practices derived from research findings.

In the past, NIJ's work has focused primarily on measuring the frequency of incidents and identifying potential risk and protective factors. Today, we are focusing on clarifying the frequency of campus sexual assault and the methods schools are using to respond to it.

We are currently conducting a systematic review of the research on campus sexual assault prevalence rates. The team has now reviewed more than 100 articles and reports and is in the process of synthesizing the empirical findings and drafting an overview of the various prevalence rates and the methodological challenges to estimating the prevalence of sexual violence on college campuses. We expect to submit this paper to Trauma Violence and Abuse in April 2015.

In addition to studying the prevalence of sexual assault of campuses, NIJ is also examining the investigative practices and adjudicative protocols that schools follow???from using a single investigator to giving decision making to college judicial boards comprised of students, faculty, and staff. The appeals process and the level of victim involvement vary greatly from school to school.

As colleges and universities continue to adopt and experiment with new ways to respond to sexual assault on their campuses, research is needed to understand the impact on the victims and alleged perpetrators of the various practices. Social scientists at NIJ, in partnership with the Library of Congress, are currently outlining the major types of investigation and adjudication practices and policies (e.g. judicial boards, single investigator) and the recommendations made by federal agencies and national organizations. NIJ will be contracting with the Library of Congress to conduct a thorough review of existing print and online material documenting current campus practices and policies for student-on-student sexual assault and rape at institutes of higher education. A report is expected to be completed in summer/fall 2015.

NIJ is now reviewing applications for funding to study campus practices and policies for investigating and adjudicating cases.

NIJ's goal in issuing the solicitation is to use scientific methods to help the nation identify promising practices for handling student-on-student sexual assault.

At NIJ, we believe research can provide evidence-based answers to many of the questions about campus sexual assault???how often it happens, how universities and colleges can respond, and what can be done to prevent it. Our activities are aimed at helping schools, public agencies, and community partners develop plans to prevent, intervene in and respond.

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