Prevention for Colleges and Universities

Sexual assault at colleges and universities is a major concern. For decades, the research has consistently indicated that sexual violence at colleges is a pervasive issue, with one in five female students experiencing sexual violence during her time in college. It is critical that experts in the sexual violence field, activists, educators, and higher education administrators now work together to combat rape culture and prevent sexual assault before it happens.

Additionally, with new requirements from the Department of Education, as well as the VAWA Amendments to the Clery Act (AKA the Campus SaVE Act), there are now more requirements than ever for colleges to engage in prevention activities. While these requirements can seem daunting, the central tenets of prevention for college students are the same as those for any population.

College and university prevention programs should follow a few guiding lights:


  1. Prevention programs need to be comprehensive. In brief, this means schools must engage in a broad variety of activities. One model that is frequently used to discuss the range of activities in prevention work is the social-ecological model. This model illustrates different levels of our social order that prevention programs need to target in order to be effective. The spectrum of prevention provides some additional considerations for institutions engaging in prevention work.
  2. You can stop looking for the perfect program—because there is no such thing as a cure-all “program in a box.” Programs need to be tailored to your community and your concerns. There are a number of tools that can be used to help identify these concerns, including campus climate surveys, focus groups, and evaluations from prevention events and educational workshops.
  3. Programs ≠ workshops. Programs > Workshops. While it’s common to use “prevention workshop” and “prevention program” as synonyms, increasingly it is understood that a school’s comprehensive prevention program needs to be bigger than just a workshop or workshop series. The 9 principles of effective prevention programs are one tool that can be helpful when considering the scope that’s necessary for programs to be effective. In particular, the concepts of sufficient dosage and saturation should encourage colleges to implement expansive, ongoing prevention work. Instead of focusing on “one-and-done” workshops during orientation for new students, schools should be conducting continuous programming for all students throughout the academic year. Not familiar with the 9 principles? There’s a web course that can help you get started!
  4. Prevention work should be integrated into the life and culture of your institution. Preventing sexual assault requires the normalization of frank discussion, policy changes, online resources, physical space improvements including awareness materials and renovation of sexual violence “hot spots,” discussion groups, invited speakers, and more. Social marketing campaigns are one effective tool—and are particularly strong options when they’re promoted by influential messengers on your campus, including leaders of prominent student groups, athletic teams, and Greek system organizations. Be creative, and identify which other groups on your campus can make a difference—such as a cappella, theater, or pre-med and pre-law societies.
  5. This is a big conversation, and there are many nuances to discuss. Sometimes, it can feel overwhelming trying to tackle the issue of college sexual assault. “Where do I even begin?” is a commonly-heard refrain. It can be tempting to stick to concepts that seem directly related, such as the incidence of sexual violence or how bystanders can prevent potential sexual assaults from taking place. But there’s a broad range of topics that should be addressed, including healthy relationships, communication skills, consent education, and healthy sexuality.
  6. Prevention Programming Needs to Start Early. To reduce the incidence of sexual assault in college, k-12 schools must introduce students to concepts like consent at an early age. CDC data indicates that 30 percent of female rape victims were first raped between the ages of 11 to 17, and nearly 20 percent of girls between the ages of 14 and 17 have been victims of sexual assault or attempted sexual assault. Other studies show that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18. Beginning prevention programming at an early age will not only help to protect children and adolescents from sexual assault and abuse, but will better equip them for college and help reduce the incidence of sexual violence throughout the lifespan. Colleges and universities should work with their local school districts to try to bring sexual assault prevention education to local k-12 students.


Prevention Resources:


Preventing and Addressing Campus Sexual Misconduct: A Guide for University and College Presidents, Chancellors, and Senior Administrators, a resource of the White House Task Force to Protect Students From Sexual Assault

Sexual Violence On Campus: Strategies for Prevention, published by the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2016

The Center for Changing Our Campus Culture

Action Steps for Campus Administrators, published by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC)

Not Alone, a resource of the White House Task Force to Protect Students From Sexual Assault

The Clery Act & Primary Prevention, a webinar from the Clery Center

Beyond Title IX, published by Futures Without Violence

PreventConnect’s Online Resource Guide for Colleges, a part of PreventConnect’s prevention Wiki site.


Faculty and Staff:

6 Ways Faculty and Staff Can Fight Sexual Violence on Campus, published by the American Association of University Women (AAUW)

Action Steps for Faculty and Staff, published by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC)


Student Health Services:

Action Steps for Health Care Professionals, published by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC)



Speak Up, Speak Out

10 Ways to Fight Against Sexual Assault on Campus, published by the American Association of University Women (AAUW)

Know Your IX

Not Alone


10 Tips for College Parents–Talking to Kids about Sexual Assault 

Awareness Campaigns:

The Clothesline Project

Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM), coordinated by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC)

Denim Day

Take Back the Night

White Ribbon Project

It’s On Us

Consent is So Frat