Although colleges and universities have taken steps to prevent sexual violence by undertaking safety audits and increasing the physical safety of their campuses, women on campuses still may experience some form of sexual assault during their academic career according to statistics. Some colleges have developed policies and protocols to prevent and respond to sexual violence. Others have introduced public education campaigns to raise awareness and engage the campus community in prevention efforts. Together with education and awareness activities, formal policies and protocols can make important contributions to increasing campus safety.
Understanding Sexual Violence and the Campus Community
Students, like many others, often have a limited understanding of sexual violence, what it is and how to prevent it. College and university years are a time when many students are living away from home for the first time and the influence of peers increases. These are often years when attitudes about equality, diversity and sexuality further develop, and when an understanding of sexual violence can be shaped.
Policies and practices that prevent and respond to sexual violence must be relevant to the diversity of the campus population. They should reflect an understanding that individuals experience sexual violence differently, including the risks they face and their access to services. Each person's experience will be affected by many factors such as their sex, ancestry, race, ethnicity, culture, language, ability, faith, age, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, and gender identity. Some acts of sexual violence are also acts of racism, ableism, homophobia or transphobia. Some individuals (for instance, a radicalized woman with a disability) are at higher risk of being targeted for sexual violence because they face multiple prejudices and stereotypes.
These are critical considerations in developing an inclusive strategy that responds to the complex and layered nature of sexual violence on campus. Understanding that individuals face different levels of risk and different challenges in seeking help will contribute to policies and protocols that reflect the diversity of campus communities.
The Role of Alcohol and Drugs
Alcohol and drugs can be one of the most significant risk factors for sexual violence on college and university campuses. While not a cause, there is a strong relationship between sexual violence and the use of alcohol and drugs. In fact, over half of sexual assaults of post-secondary students involve alcohol or drugs.
The use of alcohol or other drugs to intentionally incapacitate or sedate another person for the purpose of sexual assault is referred to as "drug-facilitated sexual assault".
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Alcohol is by far the most prevalent drug involved in drug-facilitated sexual assault. Alcohol is sometimes used in a deliberate strategy to impair the victim's ability to provide consent. A perpetrator may use alcohol (in some cases mixed with other drugs) to intentionally incapacitate a victim. In other instances, a perpetrator might target a woman who is already visibly intoxicated.
When alcohol and drugs are used to facilitate sexual assault, our perceptions about who is responsible can be influenced by myths and misconceptions. Victims are often perceived by others to be at least somewhat responsible for what happened to them. Many victims also internalize rape myths and blame themselves. The actions of an intoxicated perpetrator are often excused.
University of Alberta's Sexaul Assault Center aims to clear up some misconceptions about the role of alcohol in sexual assault in this video. Check it out!