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Three male college students talk in a hallway.

Higher education administrators can engage men in bystander prevention and sexual assault awareness through these four strategies.

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The start of the academic term is a critical time for bystander intervention training to prevent sexual assault and domestic violence. A new report from the nonprofit group It’s On Us highlights male college students’ attitudes and understandings around campus sexual assault.

Prior research finds that one in five women, one in 13 men and one in four trans or gender-nonconforming students are sexually assaulted during their college experience.

More than 90 percent of sexual assaults on campus are committed by 5 to 6 percent of the male student population, the majority being repeat offenders. Therefore, most college men do not commit acts of sexual violence but are still left out from sexual assault prevention programs.

It’s On Us conducted the National Campus Sexual Assault Attitudes and Behaviors Research Project to review the effectiveness of sexual violence prevention training at undergraduate institutions across the U.S. among male-identifying students. The organization found sexual assault prevention trainings are viewed as ineffective among college men, prompting a larger quantitative study.

Findings: Researchers narrowed responses down to four themes to consider:

  • Even if men receive training on consent, it does not prepare them to intervene in unhealthy relationships before they become abusive. Of the 47 percent who received training on sexual assault prevention, 87 percent learned about consent, or about 34 percent of the total sample.
  • Education on sex and relationships varies, so institutions should establish a baseline at the start of the academic year.
  • College faculty, staff and administrators must build and maintain trust with students as it relates to sexual assault prevention and response efforts on campus. Among surveyed students, 67 percent said they trust the administration “somewhat” or “very much.”
  • A majority of men believe they are expected to protect others from verbal and physical harm (around 60 percent), but a minority have the knowledge and skills to do so.

Recommendations: For college and university leaders looking to take the next step in addressing bystander prevention for men, the report offers four recommendations:

  1. Invest in comprehensive and inclusive sex education, including methods and resources for safer sex and education focused on the LGBTQ+ community and their unique needs.
  2. Invest in prevention education that shares information on healthy relationship behaviors, including consent training. Fewer than half of all respondents (45 percent) reported having any formal training focused on sexual assault prevention at school. Those in Greek life (62 percent) and participating in athletics (57 percent) were slightly more likely to have received formal training. However, some student populations may require additional training; the survey found men who participate in Greek life and athletics were less likely than the larger population to identify potentially abusive relationships.
  3. Communicate campus resources clearly and regularly to support students. Colleges and universities should consider using social media sources such as X (formerly Twitter), Snapchat, YouTube and Instagram to share information to reach men in particular.
  4. Build and maintain community trust. Institutional leaders should communicate quickly with students in the event of sexual violence and be transparent about the process. Over half (55 percent) of surveyed students are worried sexual assault is underreported within their campus community, and officials can mitigate worries with direct communication.

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