Respect Equality

College men say they want to help prevent campus sexual assault, but don’t feel prepared to intervene

Low engagement in training programs designed to reduce campus assault poses a key roadblock to adequately addressing the issue.
In this Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2014 file photo, Texas Tech freshman Regan Elder helps drape a bed sheet with the message “No Means No” over the university’s seal at the Lubbock, Texas campus to protest what students say is a “rape culture” on campus. (AP Photo/Betsy Blaney)

Story at a glance

  • A majority of male college students have expressed a desire to do more to prevent sexual assault on college and university campuses but don’t feel like they have the tools to make a meaningful difference, according to a report published Tuesday by It’s On Us.

  • Most of the nearly two dozen male college students interviewed by It’s On Us were generally not aware of the extent of sexual violence on college campuses.

  • More innovative and creative prevention programs are needed to better engage men in conversations around campus sexual assault and harassment, It’s On Us said.

Most male college students want to do more to prevent sexual violence and harassment on their campuses, but a majority feel ill-equipped to do so, new research suggests, demonstrating a need for more innovative assault prevention trainings and interventions.

In a first-of-its kind report published Tuesday by the group It’s On Us, researchers explored how to best engage college men in meaningful discussions about campus sexual assault prevention and reduction through nearly two dozen in-depth interviews with male students across the country.

“Young men want to get involved, but they don’t feel prepared or empowered to intervene,” Tracey Vitchers, the executive director of It’s On Us, an Obama-era initiative designed to combat campus sexual assault, said Tuesday. But while motivation among college men is reportedly high, engagement in training programs intended to expand their assault prevention toolkit is low — a key hurdle to adequately addressing the issue.

America is changing faster than ever! Add Changing America to your Facebook or Twitter feed to stay on top of the news.

Most male students interviewed by It’s On Us said mandated training programs for college and university students are largely viewed as obligatory and part of their enrollment. Several reported spacing out during in-person trainings or while completing online modules, either because they felt they were “good guys” who didn’t need it, or because the trainings were cheesy and not engaging.

“I barely listened and still passed,” one Michigan State University student told It’s On Us. “I didn’t really care.”

Others said their apathy largely mirrored that of their college or university. Higher education institutions that receive federal funding are required under the Clery Act to administer on-campus training programs to prevent and reduce sexual assault and harassment, instances of which they are also required to report each year.

“I kind of get the impression that it’s contractual and really just obligatory,” one George Washington University student said of the prevention trainings offered at his college.

“They just recycle the same stuff,” another student attending Northwestern University told It’s On Us. “It’s online and you just half-ass it because you want to get it over with and it seems like it’s common sense to just not assault someone.”

Both in-person and online training that featured interesting or engaging speakers or that had an interactive component were rated more highly than traditional assault prevention programs, according to the report.

More personalized trainings, like single-gender rather than mixed-gender prevention programs, have seen greater success in improving rape awareness and empathy, as well as in reducing rape-supportive behaviors and acceptance of “rape myths,” or stereotyped beliefs about sexual assault, studies have shown.

College men also reported that having strong non-male friendships or role models have had a big impact on their awareness of campus sexual assault, as well as their willingness to become involved and intervene in situations of gender-based violence.

“Through the track team, I have a big group of sisters who I feel like I have a responsibility to,” one male student at the University of California, Berkeley said Tuesday. “If you’re only surrounded by other guys, then you have a different frame of empathy.”

Those without healthy non-male relationships — and even those with close non-male friends — were generally not aware of the extent of sexual violence on college campuses, according to the report, and often viewed it as a problem limited to Greek life that does not affect them or their school as a whole.

According to statistics from the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), one of the largest anti-sexual assault organizations in the U.S., male college-aged students are 78 percent more likely than non-students of the same age to be a victim of rape or sexual assault. Survey data collected by the Association of American Universities in 2015 found that roughly 20 percent of undergraduate women have experienced sexual assault or misconduct at some point while attending college.

Sexual violence toward transgender, genderqueer or gender-nonconforming college or university students is disproportionately high, and more than 23 percent have reported being assaulted on campus, according to RAINN.