Researchers call for interdisciplinary look at sexual violence on campus

May 15, 2015

National thought leaders convened at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health yesterday for a symposium identifying gaps in understanding the prevention of sexual violence on college campuses, calling for a broad interdisciplinary agenda for the next generation of research on a significant problem that became front-page news around the country this year.

The day-long event, "Transforming the Campus Climate: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Sexual Violence," was one of the first public activities sponsored by the Sexual Health Initiative to Foster Transformation, or SHIFT, a research initiative announced in February by Columbia University President Lee Bollinger to explore the evidence and theoretical perspectives of campus sexual violence.

"Sexual violence has deep roots within our society," said Jennifer Hirsch, PhD, professor of Sociomedical Sciences at Columbia's Mailman School of Public Health, who will co-direct the SHIFT study. "In order to address it effectively, we need to understand more about the individual, social, and institutional factors that make it more likely to occur."

Incidents of sexual assault on college campuses, approximately 90 percent of which are not reported, are thought to be pervasive across most kinds of educational institutions. The most recent national study indicates that as many as one in five women, and one in 16 men, experience some form of sexual violence while in college.

The conference included national leaders in sociology, medicine, and psychology who spoke on a range of individual, social, and structural factors that underlie student vulnerability to sexual violence. Enriching this understanding is among the goals of Columbia's SHIFT study.

"As we work to address gender-based misconduct, our highest priority remains to prevent sexual violence before it occurs," said President Bollinger in the initial announcement about SHIFT. "But to do this most effectively, we need to help remedy what is a national deficit in evidence-based information relevant to creating the most effective prevention programs and policies. This study will consider what can be done to promote healthy relationships and identify important risk factors that must be addressed in order to establish a safer and more protective environment."

The conference, which was also sponsored by the Columbia Population Research Center, was attended by approximately 100 people, including researchers from universities and research centers across the metropolitan area, and was designed to maximize the creation of new and innovative research projects.

"Our capacity to respond effectively to the challenge of building campus climates where everyone is safe must not be held back by a lack of empirical knowledge,' said Hirsch in opening remarks.

In addition to the need for interdisciplinary research, the conference generated these findings:

  • While some campus programs have been successful at the individual level, there is a need to shape a broad interdisciplinary agenda for the next generation of research to examine social and structural factors that will inform prevention of violence on college campuses.
  • Sexual violence is not a problem that will have one solution; multiple determinants and a range of factors that shape vulnerability are vital to helping map how to proceed.
  • Generating new research is not enough. Researchers must be attentive to the processes and to the business of translating research into policy.
  • For programs to be successful, students must be engaged as partners in the process. Start the conversation at freshmen orientation and embed more broadly in student life programs. Make the college environment more conducive to connectiveness. Engage faculty in student life as well.
  • Building on what we already know so that we can be more effective at the interpersonal level in preventing sexual violence on college campuses will advance knowledge about how to improve other areas of sexual health as well as help us think in new ways to prevent violence both within and outside the college campus.

"Today's discussions were extremely promising, said Claude Ann Mellins, PhD, co-director of the study and professor of Medical Psychology in the Division of Gender, Sexuality, and Health, Department of Psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center. "We gained a better understanding of what research has been done around the country, what interventions have been tried, and what research is still needed to inform prevention programs that will help eradicate the presence of sexual assault on the campuses of colleges and universities around the country."

The SHIFT study will benefit from cross-disciplinary participation of schools from across Columbia's campus including the Mailman School and the department of Psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center where Professors Hirsch and Mellins are respectively based, as well as the School of Social Work, the Law School, the College of Arts and Sciences, and the Business School. Professors Hirsch and Mellins will collaborate with a diverse group of faculty with expertise in gender, , , young adult development, mental health, and the use of research to develop programs and policies directed at behavioral change. In addition, to account for the experiences and perspectives of students, faculty, and administrators, they will consult regularly with the study's Student and Institutional Advisory Boards. They have already met for the last half of this semester with 16 undergraduates on a weekly basis to ensure that the research is grounded in the needs and viewpoints of the students.

Explore further: Web-based training can reduce campus rape

Related Stories

Web-based training can reduce campus rape

September 15, 2014
Web-based training targeted at college-aged men is an effective tool for reducing the number of sexual assaults on U.S. campuses, according to a researcher in the School of Public Health at Georgia State University.

What motivates males who commit sexual assault on campus?

January 6, 2015
The shocking statistic that about one in five women will be the victim of sexual assault while in college is made even more so by the fact that most of those women will know their assailants. No one-size-fits-all approach ...

Interrupting cycle of violence before young perpetrators and their victims reach adulthood

January 12, 2015
Widespread among adolescents, intimate partner violence and sexual violence can place young people on a lifelong trajectory of aggression—either as victims or perpetrators—endangering their sexual and reproductive health ...

World health systems need to be better in preventing violence against women

December 2, 2014
New research shows how important global health systems are in responding to and preventing violence against women.

Texas colleges surveyed on sexual assault resources

September 26, 2013
While research consistently estimates that one in every four women in higher education will experience rape or attempted rape during their college careers, limited proactive approaches to address the issue are found on Texas ...

Recommended for you

Researchers see popular herbicide affecting health across generations

September 20, 2017
First, the good news. Washington State University researchers have found that a rat exposed to a popular herbicide while in the womb developed no diseases and showed no apparent health effects aside from lower weight.

One e-cigarette with nicotine leads to adrenaline changes in nonsmokers' hearts

September 20, 2017
A new UCLA study found that healthy nonsmokers experienced increased adrenaline levels in their heart after one electronic cigarette (e-cigarette) with nicotine but there were no increased adrenaline levels when the study ...

Higher levels of fluoride in pregnant woman linked to lower intelligence in their children

September 20, 2017
Fluoride in the urine of pregnant women shows a correlation with lower measures of intelligence in their children, according to University of Toronto researchers who conducted the first study of its kind and size to examine ...

India has avoided 1 million child deaths since 2005, new study concludes

September 19, 2017
India has avoided about 1 million deaths of children under age five since 2005, driven by significant reductions in mortality from pneumonia, diarrhea, tetanus and measles, according to new research published today.

Gulf spill oil dispersants associated with health symptoms in cleanup workers

September 19, 2017
Workers who were likely exposed to dispersants while cleaning up the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill experienced a range of health symptoms including cough and wheeze, and skin and eye irritation, according to scientists ...

Study suggests link between youth football and later-life emotional, behavioral impairment

September 19, 2017
A new study has found an association between participation in youth tackle football before age 12 and impaired mood and behavior later in life. The study appears in Nature's Translational Psychiatry.

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Nanook
not rated yet May 16, 2015
Violence: behavior involving physical force intended to hurt, damage, or kill someone or something.

The first thing to do is drop the feminist agenda and stop calling something that does not involve the use of physical force, violence. Most of what you're referring to is women getting too drunk to say no and men taking advantage of it. This is not appropriate behaviour but neither is it "violence". The intent isn't to hurt anyone even though that is the effect and physical force is usually not involved. Getting honest with the labelling, even if it's less effective at getting the emotional response you desire, is part of defining the problem and defining the problem honestly and accurately is important to finding a real solution.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.