Wendy Norris, a Denver-based freelance reporter, is a regular contributing writer working on special assignment to RH Reality Check.
Just a month into the fall semester and news outlets are
already reporting dozens of alleged sexual assaults on college campuses across
Every year, more than 71,000 American college students
between the ages of 18 and 24 are victims of alcohol-related sexual assault
or date rape, according to a 2005 Boston University research study. And
upwards of 110,000 male and female students reported being too intoxicated to
know if they consented to having sex.
Yet, experts say the full extent of the problem is largely
underestimated since fewer than 10 percent of sexual assaults are ever reported
Which makes the national rape and non-consensual sex
incidences among college students all the more shocking.
To Jane Curtis the challenge is not to convince young people
not to partake in drinking but to heighten LGBT and straight students’ personal
knowledge about risk-taking behavior and awareness of non-alcoholic campus
Last year, Curtis, who heads the University of
Colorado-Boulder’s Alcohol and Other Drugs Program, convinced school
officials last year to take part in AlcoholEdu, confidential online alcohol
awareness for incoming freshman that integrates information about sexual
A Boston-based public health company developed the program
in 2000, and today reaches more than 500,000
students at 500 American colleges and universities each year — or about 20
percent of the total private nonprofit and state-backed four-year degree
granting schools. The modules also anticipate the students’ educational needs.
As respondents reply to questions, teetotaling students take a different
curriculum than those who admit to some, heavy or binge drinking. Curtis notes
that the online segments can also be customized to embed information and links
to campus-specific resources.
The sexual assault section begins in chapter two. The module
runs the gamut from reading student-generated questions in an advice column
format, busting common myths, discussing consent and boundary-setting, and
providing tips on how to intervene in situations that could lead to unwanted sexual
In just its second year of implementation at CU-Boulder,
more than 3,500 students, or nearly 70 percent, of first-year students
participated in the voluntary program this semester. And Curtis said it’s
already having a dramatic effect.
"There is a greater understanding that the person who
is sexually assaulted is less responsible for the event," said Curtis
since students learned that both perpetrators and victims have frequently
consumed alcohol prior to the incident and that giving true consent is unlikely
when under the influence.
She also noted another encouraging trend: 260 students asked
to get more information from student organizations advocating for sexual
assault prevention on campus.
To Nathan Wickstrum, AlcoholEdu is decidedly not like D.A.R.E.,
the anti-drug and alcohol program ridiculed by kids as a modern-day
"Reefer Madness" scare tactic favored by local police departments.
Instead, it’s geared toward interactive game-savvy young people with a blunt,
no holds-bared reality television sensibility.
The Ojai, Calif., native and CU-Boulder freshman was
impressed with the sexual assault module. "It was one of the main focuses
of the program. They [explained] very specific forms of it and how to be okay
before you do anything with anyone," said Wickstrum who participated in
the program before he arrived on campus in August. "When we got to school,
we covered it again in an actual class setting and most kids were taking it
Obtaining thoughtful responses is critical to the
science-based Web tool because it feeds the world’s largest database on college
student drinking behavior.
Those responses, segmented by campus respondents, are
provided to schools to improve specific policies on alcohol use and enhance
personal safety for students.
Based on first year data, CU-Boulder is already expanding
alcohol-free student activities, like the Sobriety Weekend Challenge,
coed-intramural sports and events that integrate students into the Boulder
community at-large, that challenge the campus party culture that frequently
lead to risky situations.