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American College Health Association Releases Guidelines to Address Campus Sexual and Relationship Violence

Higher Education Publications

Last week, the American College Health Association (ACHA) released guidelines for addressing sexual and relationship violence on college and university campuses. According to the ACHA, the purpose of the guidelines is to promote trauma-informed policies and practices that will provide a comprehensive approach to addressing sexual assault and relationship violence. The ACHA stresses that the guidelines are only intended to guide institutions in their efforts to building a comprehensive program, and are not meant to provide recommendations on how campuses should manage respondents or conduct issues following a reported incident, nor do they provide guidance on complying with the Clery Act, Title IX, or other applicable state or federal statutes.

The guidelines distinguish between programming focused on prevention, risk reduction, and response and support. They stress the importance of providing programming in each of these areas, and offer recommendations for how to do so. For example, the guidelines recommend various strategies for developing comprehensive programming aimed at preventing sexual and relationship violence, such as:

  • Coordinating prevention-related messaging throughout campus, starting with a common language, including definitions of types of sexual and relationship violence, consent, etc.
  • Addressing the significant, nuanced relationship between alcohol and other drugs and sexual violence
  • Educating event hosts and security on creating social environments that promote sexual and interpersonal respect
  • Helping students develop communication skills and practices specific to consent

The guidelines also provide recommendations to inform institutions’ programming aimed at risk reduction, including:

  • Being explicit in refusing to blame victims and making clear that the responsibility for assault is always on the perpetrator
  • Developing and implementing risk reduction programs using skilled trainers
  • Reflecting the dynamics of sexual and relationship violence that are most commonly experienced by each campus community
  • Accounting for common barriers to employing risk reduction skills, including gender socialization, fear of offending/confronting acquaintances or intimate partners, and awareness of diminished capacity due to alcohol and other drugs

The guidelines also offer specific recommendations to guide institutions’ responses to sexual and relationship violence, and additional recommendations regarding their broader efforts to create a campus free from sexual and relationship violence, including:

  • Educating investigative and conduct staff about trauma-informed approaches
  • Providing advocacy services
  • Ensuring access to 24-hour crisis response
  • Providing an anonymous reporting option
  • Offering victim/survivor and respondent mental health counseling services
  • Conducting a climate survey on a regular basis to inform prevention, reporting and response
  • Providing support and resources for ongoing self-care for involved staff, clinicians, and first responders

The ACHA also advises that institutions adhere to federal, state and local statutes and requirements, further acknowledging that the guidelines do not offer guidance on compliance with such laws. While institutions are constantly working to review and improve upon their legal compliance efforts, including institutions throughout Illinois as they review and revise their policies and protocols to comply with the new Illinois Preventing Sexual Violence in Higher Education Act, the new ACHA guidelines can offer additional guidance to consider as institutions strive to create campuses free from discrimination, including sexual and relationship violence.