Campus Sexual Assaults: How Community Policing Can Make a Difference

College and university law enforcement can implement community outreach training programs, increase awareness, and foster ongoing working relationships with campus stakeholders and external organizations dedicated to preventing violence against women.

Nearly 1 in 5 women report being sexually assaulted while attending college, yet the U.S. Department of Justice suggests that sexual assault is the least reported violent crime in the nation. Although these statistics are disturbing, campus law enforcement administrators are in the unique position to reduce these numbers. The solution and manner that is the key to a department’s success is its ability to build partnerships through ­community policing efforts.

Higher Ed Students Don’t Understand the Risks
The majority of sexual assaults reported to police or other campus authorities are acquaintance rapes. However, many people envision a “typical rape” scenario to be one that involves a stranger attacking victims at random. This type of situation remains an exception. Moreover, studies that examine the perceptions and fears associated with sexual assaults among college-age women have revealed:

  • They are less likely to acknowledge or understand the risks associated with men they know.
  • They often don’t understand the definition of sexual assault and the inherent risk factors associated with drugs and alcohol.
  • They are more likely to fear being raped by a stranger than by an acquaintance.

From here, we begin to see the importance of education to enhance our community’s understanding of the risks college women face. Additionally, campus law enforcement plays a significant role, not only in responding to these incidents, but also in prevention via outreach and training programs.

Partnering with Assault Prevention Staff Works
Most colleges and universities employ at least one full- or part-time staff member who works closely with students to provide prevention training, education and literature. The employee may even meet with sexual assault survivors at the hospital or following an attack. These professionals work with student affairs/life, psychological and counseling services, and the campus women’s center to provide advocacy, referrals and consultation with external campus resources.

External agencies also connect victims of violent crimes (e.g. stalking, domestic violence) to services provided by various government agencies and non-profit organizations. Campus law enforcement and security professionals should recognize the importance of establishing strong partnerships with these professionals to develop a response protocol that works in tandem with effective sexual assault prevention and response strategies.

Appropriate Attitude, Responsibility Are Necessary
Even broader, and perhaps more important, are the institution’s attitudes and policies. Students are more likely to report sexual assaults when there is an institutional policy that outlines the attitudes, protocols and expectations around these incidents.

This policy should be explicit about a zero-tolerance stance and clear about whom to contact in the event of an assault, confidentiality issues, and services afforded the victim. Additionally, this policy should be accessible and be readily provided so students understand what will happen and how the process works.

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