Origins and Evolution of Campus Sexual Assault Prevention and Policies

Kimberley K. Goodwin

Campus sexual assault prevention has evolved in response to increased knowledge and changes in laws. From the influence of radical and cultural feminism and early scholarly works on sexual assault to current studies on acquaintance rape prevention, our understanding of sexual assault has expanded. At the same time, legal attitudes towards rape have become more progressive, reflecting a greater commitment to facilitating both prevention and prosecution. Campus prevention programs have undergone a corresponding paradigm shift from stranger rape prevention to acquaintance rape prevention, with an emphasis on broadening the scope of education and becoming more innovative.

Today, many campuses have sexual assault prevention programs that focus on educating students, faculty, and staff about acquaintance rape. However, such education in its current form is a relatively recent innovation. This paper examines the evolution of campus approaches to sexual assault in the context of the larger society by tracking some of the relevant legislation and case law in addition to exploring how the discourse about sexual assault has changed in the past three decades. As our understanding of sexual assault has improved, laws have become more progressive and campus education has grown and changed.

Changes in Understanding

Rape is by no means a new phenomenon-the references to it in ancient myths, legends, and writings are numerous-but our current understanding of rape as a phenomenon is relatively new. Kirkpatrick and Kanin published the first known study on acquaintance rape in 1957 (as cited in Bohmer and Parrot, 1993), referring to the assault survivors as "offended girls." However, sexual assault as an issue received little attention until the advent of radical feminism, which reached the height of its influence between 1967 and 1975 (Echols, 1989). During this time, feminists worked in small, grass-roots organizing units called consciousness-raising groups. There, for the first time, many women were able to talk about their experiences and to learn that rape was all too common. As a result, some of those women began the rape crisis movement, with the goal of eradicating sexual assault. By 1973, radical feminism was declining in popularity. Cultural feminism, which emphasized creating a separate woman's world rather than changing what was seen as a man's world, was gaining more widespread acceptance. Although radical and cultural feminists disagreed on many points, they shared some common ground with respect to sexual assault. Bay Area Women Against Rape (BAWAR), one of the first rape crisis centers in the United States, opened in Oakland, California in 1971 (Bay Area Women Against Rape [BAWAR], no date). All across the country, radical and cultural feminists worked together to create other crisis centers.

In 1976, Susan Brownmiller published her monumental book, Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape, which examined rape in the context of sexism and power. The volume was widely read and highly praised at the time of its publication, and portions of it are still useful in understanding rape culture. She offered a historical overview of legal attitudes towards rape, arguing that male property rights (in women) have been the basis for rape laws throughout Western history. The author discussed the perception of women's bodies as the spoils of war and of rape as a weapon used to subjugate both men and women in war and slavery. Brownmiller then profiled rape as a crime in the contemporary United States, describing it as a premeditated act committed by strangers. The book was revolutionary because it presented rape as part of the ongoing oppression of women, rather than as an isolated, aberrant form of behavior. Brownmiller has since been harshly criticized for reinforcing the myth of the Black rapist (Davis, 1983) and for making judgmental statements such as, "Not surprisingly, the . . . rapist generally lived in one of those inner-city neighborhoods . . ." (Brownmiller, p. 198).

In Women, Race & Class, first published in 1981, Angela Davis (1983) examined how racism and classism shaped the women's movement. Her incisive chapter on rape and racism discussed how the demonization of Black men as sexual predators has made Black women's bodies seem more available to White men. Davis argued that Black women have always understood this link and known they could not prevent the abuses they suffered without addressing the myth of the Black rapist. This myth originated soon after the Civil War, when angry White men were seeking excuses for lynching Black men. Ida B. Wells-Barnett first addressed lynching and racism in her 1895 pamphlet, A Red Record (as cited in Davis, 1983), but Davis was the one who tied those ideas to the contemporary feminist discourse about rape.

Some of the most influential research involving campus sexual assault was that done by Mary Koss and various colleagues. The results of her first study of sexual aggression among students at Kent State University (Koss & Oros, 1982) were published in a 1982 Ms. article that popularized the term "date rape." The article was "the first national magazine article to address the issue." (Koss, 1988, p. 190). In 1983, Koss and the Ms. editors began planning research that would pinpoint the incidence of sexual assault on college campuses across the country, gather details about incidents, describe both victims and perpetrators, and examine any psychological difficulties resulting from sexual violence. The study encompassed 32 campuses of varying types and involved 6,159 participants. The scope of the study, for methodological reasons, was limited to women as victims and men as perpetrators. Surveys were administered in randomly chosen classes in 1984 and 1985.

When the results were published in 1987 (Koss, Gidycz, & Wisniewski), some of the findings were surprising. Of the female participants, 54% reported having been sexually victimized in some way, and 27.5% reported experiencing an act that met the legal definition of rape or attempted rape (based on various state laws, rather than the FBI definition). Of the male participants, 25% reported exhibiting sexual aggression, and 7.7% reported behaviors that met the legal definition of rape or attempted rape. The rates of victimization did not differ significantly based on the size of the institution or the ethnic composition of the student body, although the rate was twice as high at private colleges and major universities as at religiously affiliated institutions. The average age of both victims and perpetrators at the time of incident(s) was between 18 and 19, indicating that traditional age first year students are the most vulnerable group.

One of the most important findings from the Ms. study was that, in contrast to the previously accepted idea that stranger rape was more prevalent than acquaintance rape (American Association of Colleges Project on the Status and Education of Women [AACPSEW], 1978; Brownmiller, 1976), 84% of those who had experienced rape or attempted rape knew their attackers (Koss, Gidycz, & Wisniewski, 1987). Only 54% of assaults happened on dates-hence the distinction between date rape and acquaintance rape. The study also showed the large discrepancy between the number of actual assaults and the number of reported assaults: only 5% of rapes or attempted rapes were reported to the police, and only 5% of the survivors sought assistance from counselors or rape crisis centers. Another new piece of information demonstrated the link between substance use and violence: approximately 75% of the men and 55% of the women involved in assaults had been drinking alcohol or using other drugs shortly before the incident. A fourth important finding was that the men and women in the study had very different opinions about what constituted acceptable sexual behavior. Although at least one previous study had shown similar differences in attitudes (Barnett & Feild, 1977), the Koss study was much larger in scope and more widely publicized.

What was perhaps most important about the Koss study was that it not only revealed the prevalence of campus sexual assault, but also illuminated how such violence happens and why college and university communities are so conducive to a high incidence of acquaintance sexual assault. Young adults who are not accustomed to communicating clearly about their sexual limits are particularly susceptible to becoming involved in acquaintance rape situations, especially when they are experimenting with alcohol and other drugs (Warshaw, 1988).

Much of the research in recent years has focused on why or how acquaintance rape happens and how it can be prevented. Several studies have indicated that college men are likely to have less accurate information and understanding about sexual assault than their female peers (Harrison, Downes, & Williams, 1991; Lenihan, Rawlins, Eberly, Buckley, & Masters, 1992; Schaeffer & Nelson, 1993). Schaeffer and Nelson found that men in single-sex residence halls or fraternities were more likely to have rape-supportive attitudes, though they were unable to determine whether those attitudes were fostered by the environment or whether those attitudes made students more likely to select all-male living situations. According to Lenihan et al. (1992), the number of assault survivors and their partners seeking assistance from counseling services on one campus tripled when a rape awareness program was implemented. Harrison et al. (1991) and Lenihan et al. found that prevention education was successful in changing students' attitudes about sexual assault. Several studies have found that workshops led by peers may be more effective than workshops led by professional staff (Ellis, Carroll, McCrea, Hershey, & Beaudoin, 1991; Shepherd, Lynch, & Scott, 1991; Skinner & Hight, 1991; as cited in Lenihan et al.). Berkowitz and Capraro suggested in 1989 (as cited in Lenihan, et al.) that single-sex programs are most effective with men. Hanson and Gidycz (1993) determined that, over the period of one academic quarter, prevention programs directed at women decreased the incidence of sexual assault among women who had not been previously victimized-those who had been assaulted prior to the study were more likely to be victimized again. Unlike earlier studies, the research done by Hanson and Gidycz compared the number of actual incidents in the experimental group and the control group, rather than attitude or behavior changes. However, it is difficult to gauge the accuracy of this first empirical study due to the short time frame, the inaccuracy inherent in self-reporting, and the lack of knowledge of what outside information was available to the control group. Also, doing prevention programs only with women perpetuates the idea that women are more responsible than men are for preventing sexual assault.

Changes in Law

During the 1970's, legal attitudes about rape began to change as understanding of the issue improved. Criminal codes as well as laws pertaining specifically to education have become increasingly liberal. In 1972, federal law as well as laws in approximately a third of the states equated rape with murder by mandating the death penalty for convicted rapists. Kaminer (1990) suggests,

The protectionist equation of rape with homicide reflected more patriarchal outrage over the violation of male property rights than respect for women; indeed, it reinforced the view that women were only as valuable as they were virtuous, that a woman who was raped might as well have been killed. (p. 184)

Five years later, however, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized in Coker v. Georgia that while rape is a serious crime deserving of severe punishment, it is not the equivalent of murder-\"for the rape victim, life may not be nearly so happy as it was, but it is not over and normally is not beyond repair,\" (as cited in Kaminer, p. 185). According to Bohmer and Parrot (1993), many state criminal codes now employ broader definitions of sexual assault and impose less severe penalties, both of which allow for easier prosecution.

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, patterned after the 1964 Civil Rights Act, is sometimes considered applicable to sexual assault on campus. It prohibits sex discrimination in federally assisted programs and has been interpreted by courts as well as by the Department of Education to include sexual harassment. Title IX would only pertain to sexual assault cases that were also considered sexual harassment (i.e., if an assault were shown to be

discrimination on the basis of sex). A feminist scholar like Brownmiller might argue that women are raped because they are women, which makes sexual assault a form of discrimination, but the law is generally not interpreted in this way. According to Sandler, Title IX would only apply if an institution refused to investigate or take action in a sexual assault, since other types of violent incidents would presumably be handled differently.

One piece of legislation particularly relevant to colleges and universities is the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974, also known as the Buckley Amendment, which contains provisions intended to protect the privacy of students. It requires institutions of higher learning to treat students equitably, to assure the proper use of educational records, to make students aware that certain information about them is recorded, and to allow students to change incorrect information contained in their records. According to Bohmer and Parrot (1993):

Many campus authorities . . . feel that they are bound by the Buckley Amendment to maintain the confidentiality of accused students even after they have been found guilty of violating the campus code of conduct. As a result, sexual assault victims who bring charges against their assailants through the campus judicial process may never be informed of the penalty imposed. (p. 170)

However, Bohmer and Parrot maintain that, based on the precedents set by two state rulings in 1991 and an injunction granted by a federal judge in 1992, the Buckley Amendment no longer guarantees student confidentiality with respect to felonies committed on campus. Notifying the accuser of the results of any disciplinary proceeding that involves an alleged sexual assault is also permitted under the Student Right to Know and Campus Security Act of 1987 and is required by the 1992 Ramstad Amendment to the Higher Education Act.

Title II of the Student Right to Know and Campus Security Act, introduced in 1987 and enacted in 1990, requires colleges and universities to compile campus crime statistics starting in 1991 and publish the data every year thereafter. The act also requires the yearly publication of campus law

enforcement and crime prevention policies, including alcohol regulations. There are no specific provisions for how campuses must address crime and safety issues, as the law only addresses what information must be reported and to whom.

During the period between the introduction of the Student Right to Know and Campus Security Act and the 1992 Ramstad Amendment, four states (California, Wisconsin, New York, and Minnesota) passed legislation regarding sexual assault prevention and policies on college campuses. Key aspects of that legislation are summarized by Bohmer and Parrot (1993). Of these states, California passed the most comprehensive legislation, beginning with a 1987 resolution requiring colleges and universities to establish clear policies and response protocols for campus sexual assaults. When many institutions failed to comply, the Donahoe Higher Education Act was amended in 1990 to require compliance and in 1991 to require sexual assault education at all post-secondary institutions in the state. The provisions of the amendment include minimum expectations for program content, such as the prevalence of rape and its link with alcohol and other drugs. The amendment also specifies that programs should be available for students, faculty, and staff, and that athletic teams and student organizations with a high risk of involvement should be targeted specifically. Rape prevention programs are required in new student orientations, and professional and student residential life staff must receive training every semester. At present, California has the most comprehensive legislation regarding this issue.

Wisconsin, in 1989, was the second state to pass a law regarding sexual assault prevention on campuses (Bohmer & Parrot, 1993). The legislature mandated that information about sexual assault and sexual harassment be included in orientation programs for state institutions. One requirement of the Wisconsin legislation is modeled after federal regulations regarding sexual harassment-any employee who witnesses or receives information about a sexual assault must report it to the dean of students. In 1990, New York followed suit and passed a law with similar education requirements as well as provisions for a campus advisory committee composed of students, faculty members, and presidential appointees, at least half of whom must be women. Most recently, Minnesota Statute 135A 15, enacted in 1992, requires post-secondary institutions to implement training and prevention programs by the beginning of the 1994-95 academic year.

On the federal level, the most progressive legislation involving campus sexual assault was passed in 1992. The Ramstad Amendment to the Higher Education Act, which arose from the proposed Violence Against Women Act and Campus Sexual Assault Victims' Bill of Rights, requires that institutions provide prevention education as well as a policy for sexual assault response. Policies regarding sexual assault must include possible sanctions and disciplinary procedures as well as victim services and notification. Part D-Grants for Sexual Offenses Education provides funds for training college personnel; creating and implementing policies; developing, enlarging, or improving support services; and designing, maintaining, or expanding outreach efforts, including peer education.

Changes in Prevention

Campus rape prevention education has evolved as our understanding of sexual assault has increased and laws have changed. Colleges and universities have moved from having no prevention efforts, through a period in which safety and self-defense were the main emphases (AACPSEW, 1978; Goodwin, 1993), to the current focus on acquaintance rape and effective communication. Some programs are now addressing the relationship between acquaintance rape and alcohol (Miller, 1988), and others have expanded their efforts to include child sexual abuse, battering, and ritual abuse information (University of California, Berkeley Rape Prevention Education Program [RPEP], 1992). It has also become increasingly apparent that the same approach to education is not equally effective for all groups. Peer education, programs for men only, workshops in fraternities, and programs targeting specific student populations are becoming more common (Lenihan et al., 1992; RPEP, 1992).

A few institutions have adopted strict codes of conduct. Antioch College, for example, employs an explicit consent policy, which means that one party must ask if the other wants to engage in each stage of sexual activity and be given non coerced verbal consent (whereas criminal statutes use a definition of sexual assault based on a reasonable belief of consent). Failure to comply with this policy results in suspension or expulsion. The positive side of this approach is that it makes miscommunication less likely. However, as Bohmer and Parrot (1993) point out, this policy assumes that students are willing and able to discuss sexuality in assertive and honest terms.

Future Considerations

Our understanding of sexual assault has improved markedly in the past three decades, and the volume of literature on campus sexual assault has at least tripled in the past ten years. Laws are gradually becoming more liberal, and campus prevention efforts are expanding. In spite of all this, sexual assault is an epidemic that still plagues us today. However, the problem is a larger one than we can hope to address on isolated campuses. Sexual assault is not unique to colleges and universities-rather, the world of higher education is a microcosm in which problems of the larger society are repeated and sometimes amplified. We cannot single-handedly eradicate sexual assault-it is too deeply rooted in our culture.

The question that remains for us is, how can we best prevent sexual assault on our campuses? Many institutions are tailoring their prevention efforts for specific groups, and some qualitative research suggests that these strategies are at least moderately successful in changing attitudes (Hanson et al., 1993; Lenihan et al., 1992). However, there is not sufficient empirical research on actual outcomes for us to know whether programs are truly effective. There is a pressing need for quantitative research on the effectiveness of specific techniques in preventing sexual assault.

One of the challenges in the meantime is to continue providing education to campus communities that use the number of reported assaults to gauge the effectiveness of prevention efforts. Those numbers are more often a reflection of how safe students feel in reporting, rather than the actual incidence of assaults. If rape prevention programs increase the number of reported assaults or the number of students seeking counseling, it may be difficult to justify a program's efforts-or even its existence-either to the campus community or to the administration. Another challenge is to address acquaintance rape in campus judicial policies in a manner that will protect the rights of all parties involved. Should institutions follow the lead of Antioch College, for example? Where is the balance between promoting open communication and expecting an unreasonable degree of it? That question may never be answered. Past research has already encouraged the formation of rape prevention programs and facilitated a major paradigm shift from stranger rape prevention to acquaintance rape prevention. We can hope that future research will show us the next step.


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Kimberly Goodwin, HESA class of 1996, is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley. She is the former Coordinator of Queer Resouce Center at UC Berkeley. Kimberly is currently the Hall Advisor in Tupper Hall at UVM.