The McCluskey Center for Violence Prevention supports the development of research to prevent dating and sexual violence among college students. Over the next several years, we will seek funding to support research teams consisting of faculty, staff and students. Specifically, the research must be focused on primary prevention with a focus on perpetration or peer culture and research teams must include at least one person engaged in practical application of the research findings.
Currently, students, faculty and staff affiliated with the center are engaged in two research projects related to relationship and sexual violence among college students.
How college students describe and experience intimate partner violence:
A University of Utah landscape study
Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) impacts significant numbers of students on college and university campuses across the U.S. Unfortunately, college students may not identify their experiences with intimate partner violence as such because the language they use to describe their experiences may differ from educational materials university administrators use to describe IPV. Additionally, on most campuses, website and campus-wide messaging rarely mentions “intimate partner violence” or related terms, including dating and relationship violence, stalking, and coerced sex in relationships. Instead, campus communication primarily focuses on “campus safety” as opposed to relationship violence. Without a shared vocabulary or explicit attention to IPV, students’ beliefs about dating or relationship violence may result in the minimization of their own or their peers’ experiences with and reports of harm.
Utilizing case study methodology, we collected data during the 20-21 academic year (a year significantly impacted by the COVID pandemic) to better understand how students at the U of Utah discuss and describe intimate partner violence. Our interdisciplinary team of researchers (including three faculty members, three undergraduate students, and three graduate students from six departments) conducted 21 focus groups with 53 students, analyzed 106 campus policies, and reviewed program descriptions for 11 campus educational resources related to IPV.
Our research team is in the process of analyzing the data and writing a report. We anticipate releasing a report summarizing the findings in January 2022.
The principal investigators for this project are: Chris Linder, Educational Leadership & Policy, College of Education; Jessie Richards, Management, Eccles College of Business; Heather Melton, Sociology, College of Social and Behavioral Science.
Patterns of Perpetration Study
Between 10-25% of college men have engaged in perpetration of coerced sex, yet most do not identify their behavior as such. In fact, Abbey and colleagues (2012) suggest that college men have a difficult time distinguishing between “coercion” and “seduction” (i.e., the role of power in coerced sexual assault). Further, because sex education in most of the U.S. is ineffective, many young people learn about sex through watching pornography rather than talking with trusted adults about how to engage in equitable, consensual, pleasurable sexual behaviors. Lack of knowledge and unequal distributions of power contribute to a lack of understanding about patterns of perpetration of sexual violence among college students.
Further, research about campus sexual violence largely centers on understanding factors for victimization, not perpetration. In one study examining 10 years of research on campus sexual violence, fewer than 10% of articles focused on perpetration; more than 50% focused on victimization. The limited research that does exist about campus perpetration patterns overly centers alcohol as a factor, leaving examinations of power and peer culture out of the equation.
We have been reviewing the current literature about patterns of perpetration among college students and anticipate pulling together a national research team in Spring 2022 to begin data collection on a larger study.