The Heartland Sexual Assault Policies & Prevention on Campuses Project’s (Heartland Project) primary goal is to increase post-secondary schools’ adoption of a comprehensive, gender-centered public health approach to sexual assault campus policy and prevention. The Heartland Project uses a regionally focused and public health framework approach, designed to build and strengthen institutional level capacity and momentum to strategically change, prevent, and respond to sexual assault at post-secondary schools in Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska. The Heartland Project will also utilize a strengths-based approach in all aspects of the work. Policy analysis and assessment using a strengths-based approach will value what the schools have as resources and capabilities, and harness those to create change.
Six objectives are linked to the Heartland Project’s goal: (1) convene a technical advisory group with representatives from partnering organizations, other experts, and students to collaborate on innovative strategies and resources to disseminate and provide technical assistance for policy development and prevention strategy implementation to partnering schools; (2) convene campus taskforces that represent all necessary stakeholders on each campus, including students and community organizations and establish Sexual Assault Response Team (SART); (3) implement strengths-based needs assessment of sexual assault policy and prevention approaches with partnering schools’ taskforces, (4) evaluate the impact of assessment and taskforce on comprehensive, gender-centered, public health policy and prevention strategies outcomes; (5) implement a data tracking system that includes: a) record of taskforce development progress, b) outcome measures, c) policy advances, d) sexual assault climate survey data; and e) national outreach participation; (6) develop multiple forms of dissemination products that are customized and targeted for specific audiences.
The Heartland Project has five outcomes connected to the objectives: (1) increase knowledge of White House Sexual Assault Task Force resources, and the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act; (2) increase use of Not Alone Campaign and It’s On Us Campaign in prevention programming and policies; (3) increase in prevention approach of engaging men as stakeholders in violence prevention and positive social norm change; (4) increase use of public health, comprehensive, primary, secondary, and tertiary prevention approach on campuses, within organizational partners and campus taskforces; and (5) increase partnering organizations' effectiveness and sensitivity of response to sexual assault victims on campuses.
The Heartland Project will produce five overarching products that will be used to deploy the resources and tools created, specifically, (1) a toolkit, (2) a website, (3) webinars, (4) podcasts, and (5) social media. Knowledge and skill building based webinars and podcasts will provide trainings to meet the core goal, as well as the objectives of the Project.
Nature and Scope of Sexual Assault on College and University Campuses: Sexual violence on college and university campuses in the United States is a serious social problem. From the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey data, one out of five women and one out of seventy-one men reported that they had experienced rape (Black et al., 2011). Data from undergraduate women underscores that the problem is even more concentrated during college. One study showed that 19% of undergraduate women either experienced attempted or completed sexual assault since beginning college (Krebs, Linquist, Warner, Fisher, & Martin, 2009). Although there is less empirical evidence as to the rate of victimhood among men and transgender individuals, those populations have also suffered high levels of victimization (Sable et al., 2006; Stotzer, 2009). Despite the prevalence of sexual violence on college campuses, post-secondary institutions have routinely down-played or ignored the severity of the problem. This insufficient response stems from two key obstacles. First, higher education leaders systemically underestimate the significance of the problem. Second, institutions lack the capacity to deal with the problem.
Leadership at higher education institutions has generally underestimated the prevalence of the problem on their campuses, which is the first significant obstacle to addressing campus sexual violence. A survey of 647 college presidents found that just 32% either strongly agreed or agreed that sexual assault was “prevalent at U.S. colleges and universities” (Jaschik & Lederman, 2015). Only 6% either strongly agreed or agreed that sexual assault was “prevalent at [their] institution.” A mere 4% strongly disagreed or disagreed that their campuses were “doing a good job” protecting women from sexual assault on campus.
The second major obstacle limiting institutions is capacity deficiencies. This obstacle has ripple effects that detrimentally impact institutions’ ability to enact policies and practices to counter sexual assault. These related challenges specifically include having an unclear protocol after an alleged sexual assault occurs, and lacking integrated services with community partners such as sexual violence advocacy organizations. Institutions’ prevention efforts are often hampered because they are short-term, narrow in scope and decentralized across campus units.
In addition, many colleges have a limited understanding and implementation of primary prevention efforts. As a result, they place an unbalanced emphasis on the necessary legal response to sexual violence. Another substantial barrier is a lack of coordinated and comprehensive training and technical assistance to adequately address sexual violence. These barriers are evident in campuses’ ineffective efforts to combat sexual violence, which are often fragmented and are not based in prevention science effective programming (Nation et al., 2003).
Although several prevention strategies are promoted within the field, currently there are few programs identified as evidence based. Programs implementing bystander intervention knowledge and skills of both men and women have been studied most and show promise in changing attitudes and some behaviors (Banyard, Moynihan, & Crossman, 2009). As part of prevention strategies, specific efforts include engaging men to examine their social norms, deconstructing negative conceptualizations of masculinity, and educating and empowering men in their role as active bystanders (Flood, 2011). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) promotes a public health approach to preventing sexual assault, which aims to develop a comprehensive framework addressing the issue at a population level, to study the risk and protective factors, to test interventions with rigorous evaluation methods, and to disseminate findings broadly (DeGue, 2014). With the exception of some evidence-based bystander intervention programs, the evidence of effective programs is limited (DeGue, 2014).
However, even if institutions implement evidence-based and promising practices, or create their own programs, many of these practices often address only one part of the sexual assault problem. Overall assessment of policies and practices to prevent and respond to sexual assault across individual institutions are often conducted at a time of crisis. Current knowledge and models evaluating the impact of policy implementation remain even farther behind, leaving institutions without a blueprint of effective strategies to move toward more effective policy.
White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault: In its 2014 report, the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault (WHTFSA) challenges post-secondary institutions to examine the limitations and deficiencies in prevention efforts, survivor support services, and policy. The report offers four main action steps aimed at creating institutional change: (1) identify the problem: Campus Climate Surveys; (2) prevent sexual assault – and engage men; (3) effectively respond when a student is sexually assaulted; and (4) increase transparency and improve enforcement. It provides a climate survey template as a resource for post-secondary institutions. In 2014, the White House also produced two campaigns: the It’s On Us Campaign, a pledge-based effort to be used on campuses to promote the social norm that the prevention of sexual assault is everyone’s responsibility, and the Not Alone Campaign, to address institutional responses to sexual assault that focus on the experience of victims/survivors. Some campuses and post-secondary serving institutions across the U.S. have integrated these campaigns into their efforts, but more could be done.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Office on Women’s Health: Along with the White House campaigns, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Office on Women’s Health (OWH) also have provided resources to support safe environments and end sexual assault. The HHS strategic goal of advancing the health, safety, and well-being of the American people and the mission of the OWH to provide “national leadership and coordination to improve the health of women and girls through policy, education, and model programs” work in concert to support safe campus environments and end sexual assault.
Proposed Intervention Benefit to Target Populations: Post-secondary Schools and College and University Students: The Heartland Project is designed to increase post-secondary schools’ adoption of a comprehensive, gender-centered, public health approach to sexual assault campus policy and prevention strategies. Using a regionally focused and public health framework approach, the Heartland Project will strengthen and build school capacity to enable policy adoption and implementation to occur at eight partnering schools in Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska, guided by the WHTFSA goals, research, and evidence-based best practices.
The Heartland Project has two broad target populations: 1) all post-secondary campus school leaders responsible for student safety, and 2) post-secondary students. These target populations will benefit through the Project’s development and dissemination of resources in collaboration with the technical advisory group to increase sexual assault prevention policies and strategies through its national outreach and technical assistance. This Project intends to increase the safety of college and university students by changing the climate and practices of the school systems that shape their experience, by increasing the capacity of those schools to engage students in prevention, and by responding to incidents of sexual assault more effectively. The Heartland Project also intends to benefit students at Historic Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) through its strategic school partnerships. Through the Project’s work, both the broad experiences of all the partnering schools as well as the unique and culturally relevant aspects of the different types of schools can help shed light on the effective strategies and policies.