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School of Social Work Submits Recommendations to White House Task Force to Expand and Enhance Use of Campus Climate Surveys to Address Sexual Violence
September 2, 2015

Researchers at Rutgers University’s School of Social Work delivered to the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault a comprehensive “campus climate survey model” to assess and combat sexual violence – and encouraged colleges and universities across the nation to consider the Rutgers model in the fight against sexual assault on their own campuses. Rutgers University’s Center on Violence Against Women and Children was invited by the Obama administration to pilot and evaluate the climate survey because of the Rutgers center’s status as a “leading research institute on violence against women,” according to the April 2014 report of the White House Task Force.

“We are pleased that the White House Task Force sought our expertise and leadership in this area,” said Rutgers University President Robert Barchi. “We hope that the entire country can learn from these findings and set a course toward eliminating sexual violence on campus.” 

The pilot survey – initially developed by the Justice Department’s Office on Violence Against Women and conducted by Rutgers – generated responses from nearly 11,000 Rutgers University-New Brunswick students. In the Rutgers report, “sexual violence” has a broad definition that was based on materials developed by the White House Task Force. This definition ranges from remarks about physical appearance to rape and other forms of sexual assault.

The most startling finding in the Rutgers report: Nearly one in four undergraduate women (24 percent) told researchers that they were victims of some form of sexual violence before they ever set foot on campus.

“One of our most important recommendations is that colleges and universities include in their surveys some questions to help them better understand the experiences of their students before they come to campus,” said Sarah McMahon, the lead researcher and the center’s associate director. “These results are a clear signal that education, prevention and victim support programs need to begin long before students enter college.”

Rutgers researchers also recommended that other colleges and universities undertake their own campus climate surveys and that they consider these steps:

  • Combining student surveys with other forms of data collection, such as focus groups and audits of available campus resources. This approach provides a more complete understanding of the climate on individual campuses.

  • Using these surveys as information tools to engage campus communities and raise awareness about sexual violence.

  • Creating forums as part of the campus climate assessment process where all students can share their voices and experiences – including survivors of sexual violence, members of the LGBT community, student leaders, athletes, fraternity and sorority members and students affiliated with other campus groups.

  • Using survey results to implement campuswide “action plans” to combat sexual violence. Action plans can include a range of initiatives, such as new educational programs to raise awareness, new support services for survivors, and new policies and procedures to hold perpetrators accountable.

Rutgers researchers recommended that campus climate surveys include detailed questions to help distinguish among the many different types of sexual violence that can occur on campus. Researchers also stressed that colleges and universities should tailor their assessment approach to meet the needs of their specific campus communities.

“There is no ‘one size fits all’ method for understanding sexual violence on thousands of campuses across the nation,” McMahon said. “Our report to the White House Task Force, however, is intended to provide lessons learned to inform the efforts of other colleges and universities that share our commitment to ending sexual violence.”

The Rutgers survey also found:

  • One in five undergraduate women (20 percent) reported at least one instance of unwanted sexual contact since they arrived at Rutgers University-New Brunswick. This is consistent with findings from other colleges and universities nationwide.

  • The vast majority of survivors who use campus resources find them helpful. For example, 84 percent of victims who went to the Office for Violence Prevention and Victim Assistance said the office’s services were useful.

  • Student awareness and utilization of these services remain a challenge; only about 7 percent of undergraduate women who experienced sexual violence disclosed the incident to Rutgers staff.

Rutgers University’s full report to the White House Task Force can be found at:

Campaign Launched

Responding to the report, Rutgers-New Brunswick Chancellor Richard L. Edwards announced today that the Division of Student Affairs has launched a comprehensive action plan to combat sexual violence.

“From the start of the process, Rutgers was committed to creating an action plan based on the results of the survey in order to improve the prevention of and response to campus sexual violence,” Edwards said. “Rutgers University-New Brunswick Vice Chancellor Felicia McGinty has already launched a new campaign to raise awareness among students about the dangers of sexual violence as soon as they arrive on campus.”

Campaign initiatives include:

  • A Rutgers-produced public service announcement calling on the campus community to come together to end sexual violence.

  • The launch of a new website ( to provide a single location for information about all Rutgers resources related to sexual violence.

  • Expansion of the Office for Violence Prevention and Victim Assistance staff and programs to increase engagement with male students and enhance advocacy services for victims and survivors.

  • Introduction of “Not Anymore,” a web-based education program that covers topics such as consent, healthy relationships, bystander intervention, reporting options and resources.

“We are using the findings of the climate survey to inform our action plan,” McGinty said. “The findings show that peers are a critical source of support for students who experience sexual violence and that students want to know more about resources available to them. We want to increase awareness of these resources, provide support to survivors and increase active bystander intervention so we can work together as a community to end sexual violence.”

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