October 21, 2018

An interdisciplinary team, led by researchers at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, explored the critical issue of campus sexual assault in their article, “Starting the Conversation: Are Campus Sexual Assault Policies Related to the Prevalence of Campus Sexual Assault?”

Published online Sept. 25, the work will be included in a special print issue of the Journal of Interpersonal Violence, to be published in November.

The research is an effort of the UNC Gender-Based Violence Research Group (GBVRG), a student-led group that works to foster a better understanding of, and to help end, violence associated with a person’s gender. Members of the group wrote another article for inclusion in the November special issue, reported on here.

Stephanie DeLong

Stephanie DeLong

“This truly has been an interdisciplinary effort – where we brought our individual expertise, training and passion to learn as much as we could to solve important social problems,” said Stephanie DeLong, MPH, lead author of the current study, co-founder of the GBVRG and doctoral candidate in epidemiology at the Gillings School.

Previous research has shown that campus sexual assault (CSA) is prevalent, but prior to the research by DeLong and her colleagues, no studies had explored whether CSA policies had an impact upon its prevalence. To address that gap, the team studied 24 universities participating in the 2015 Association of American Universities (AAU) Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct. The researchers then linked 2014-2015 data from these universities’ CSA policies with CSA prevalence findings from the survey.

The 2014 White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault offered a checklist for campus sexual misconduct policies. The list suggests that 10 elements be included in CSA policies (e.g., investigation procedures and protocols, grievance procedures, education, training and prevention) and outlines policy topics to be included within each element (e.g., statements that the school prohibits sexual misconduct and is committed to address the misconduct).

The researchers examined the degree to which CSA policies included recommended policy content from the checklist to test whether the comprehensiveness of schools’ CSA policies related to schools’ CSA prevalence.

Policies were characterized as being more comprehensive if they included greater numbers of checklist topics. Researchers correlated the number of topics within the policies with school-level CSA prevalence. In addition, they explored whether there was lower CSA prevalence among schools with policies containing particular topics.

Though findings were not statistically significant, results suggested that assaults occurred less frequently at schools where the school’s CSA policies were more comprehensive. Schools with policies that included a topic related to having a sexual assault response team had the lowest CSA prevalence for both women and men, and schools that included topics describing grievance/adjudication procedures had lower CSA prevalence.

“Building on the initial evidence from our study, we plan to further explore the relationship between campus sexual assault policy and campus sexual assault, including the mechanisms of how policy may help prevent campus sexual assault experiences,” said DeLong.

DeLong’s Gillings School co-authors are Sarah Treves-Kagan, MPH, doctoral candidate in health behavior; Christine L. Gray, PhD, MPH, alumna, now research scholar at Duke Global Health Institute’s Center for Health Policy and Inequalities Research; Lawrence L. Kupper, PhD, professor emeritus of biostatistics; Audrey Pettifor, PhD, professor of epidemiology; Beth E. Moracco, PhD, associate professor of health behavior; Sandra L. Martin, PhD, professor and associate chair for research in the Gillings School’s Department of Maternal and Child Health; and Alison M. McClay, MPH, a Gillings School student while working on the paper and now a research analyst in youth development at Child Trends.

UNC co-authors are Laurie M. Graham, MSW, doctoral candidate in social work; Rebecca J. Macy, PhD, L. Richardson Preyer Distinguished Chair for Strengthening Families at the UNC School of Social Work; Samantha M. Zarnick, an undergraduate majoring in women’s and gender studies and biochemistry; Erin P. Magee, MPH, MSW, a Gillings School and UNC School of Social Work graduate and now project coordinator for the School’s North Carolina Institute for Public Health.

Olivia S. Ashley, DrPH, senior program evaluator at PIRE, is also a co-author.


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