This important study about campus sexual assault could improve policies to protect students and survivors

A 2015 study found that 1 in 4 college women experience some form of sexual assault during their time on campus, and a number of colleges and universities have come under fire for mishandling these cases. Researchers at Columbia University recently wrapped up a study about campus sexual assault that could improve policies to protect students and help survivors.

"The Sexual Health Initiative to Foster Transformation (SHIFT) is a comprehensive research project that examines the individual, interpersonal, and structural (cultural, community, and institutional) factors that shape sexual health and sexual violence for undergraduates at Columbia and Barnard," according to the study's website.

Researchers tracked students’ attitudes towards sex, how they interacted with one another, and looked for risk or preventative factors for sexual violence.


The study’s goal is to examine how the Columbia undergraduate community approaches sex, which could shed light on how sexual violence has become so common on college campuses. The co-directors of SHIFT, Jennifer Hirsch, Professor of Sociomedical Sciences at the Mailman School of Public Health and Claude Ann Mellins, Professor of Medical Psychology at the Columbia University Medical Center, hope the study will ultimately result in the development of “innovative and holistic strategies for sexual assault prevention.”

"We accomplish this purpose through examination of real-world behavior by highly-trained research staff (not faculty) as well as through survey research. Sexual assault prevention has always been about more than just an examination of whether sex is healthy and consensual, but should also consider how sexual practices take shape in relation to students’ identities, reputations, and intimate lives. Our study reinforces the importance to prevention efforts of thinking about sex as a social behavior, not only as a health or individually-driven behavior," Hirsch and Mellins said in statement to Teen Vogue.

As part of the study, researchers went to bars and parties to examine students’ approach to sex.

According to The Columbia Daily Spectator, researchers are in the process of analyzing the data they gathered over the past two years. Once they’ve concluded, the findings will be released in journal articles along with recommendations about how to prevent sexual violence.

Hirsch and Mellins emphasize that sexual violence doesn’t occur in a vacuum — and they couldn’t be more correct.

Although some people like to pretend that rape culture is a myth, it undoubtedly influences the way people view sex and consent.


“Effective prevention of unwanted sexual touching by strangers, for example, might differ from strategies to prevent rape in the context of an ongoing hookup, Hirsch told The Spectator. "To be effective with prevention, it’s important to focus in a more targeted way on the specifics of what we are trying to prevent."

Hopefully, colleges and universities across the nation will take a long look at the study’s results and recommendations. As of January, 223 schools were under investigation for Title IX violations related to sexual violence. SHIFT is an important step in preventing sexual violence, and educating colleges about how to handle reports when students are assaulted on campus.

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