Conversation on sexual assault heads to the classroom


FIU is joining an elite few universities to offer an academic course on understanding and preventing campus sexual assault.

The course — “It’s Not Just Locker Room Talk: Understanding and Preventing Campus Sexual Assault” — will be offered this spring, covering factors that contribute to the incidence of sexual assault and ways to prevent it. Professor Vicki Burns has been developing the course since first joining FIU’s Center for Women’s and Gender Studies in 2015. As part of the curriculum, she will discuss  the media, alcohol, parties and the role of consent and why it matters.

Photo: Whatever we wear. Wherever we go. Yes means Yes and No means No“The United States is confronting an epidemic that has always existed,” Burns said. “Sexual assault is now front and center in the national conversation. Understanding and preventing sexual assault, especially on college campuses, has become a priority.”

Burns is a member of the university’s Title IX Committee and faculty advisor for FIU’s Women, Sexuality and Gender Studies Student Association. Her research focuses on how gender, race or ethnicity and other demographic factors relate to sexual assault prevention efforts with a particular focus on bystander intervention strategies.

With this course, Burns wants to provide a platform for students to be better educated about what sexual assault is and what consent is. She highlights these five things to know about campus sexual assault:

  1. Young people are confused about what constitutes sexual assault. A recent study found that men and women ages 18 to 34 were less able to correctly label an act as sexual assault compared to older groups of adults. Men were even less clear than women about what could be considered a sexual assault. Not knowing what constitutes sexual assault, is one of the reasons a majority of college students do not report their assault.
  2. Campus sexual assault is more common than you think. Research shows 20 to 25 percent of women and 6 to 7 percent of men report a sexual assault while in college. Some studies show 1 in 3 women have reported a campus assault. College women and students who identify as transgender, genderqueer, non-conforming and questioning report the highest levels of sexual assault on any campus. Since students often do not report assaults, these numbers are likely higher.
  3. The second most common insurance claim for fraternities is for sexual assaultAll-male groups on campus have unique risk factors when it comes to participating in rape culture and sexual assault. Student athletes have been found more likely to endorse rape myths and commit sexual coercion compared to male students not involved in athletics. When trying to understand how the dynamics within these groups relate to sexual assault and rape culture, the impact of stereotypes about male and female sexuality, the role of toxic masculinity and the power of social norms among young men should be considered.
  4. False reports of sexual assault are extremely low. While most research about false reporting is not specific to college students, we do know false reporting rates for sexual assault in general. False reporting for sexual assault in the United States is believed to be between 2 and 10 percent. Essentially this means that 90 to 98 percent of sexual assault reports are true. Yet, there is a tendency to question survivors and not believe them when they demonstrate the courage to come forward. We must consider the ways in which beliefs about gender, power, and sexism may impact our attitudes and opinions about survivors.
  5. Most college students do NOT commit sexual assault. Research shows that often times the individuals committing sexual assault on campus are repeat offenders. In other words, the majority of students are NOT assaulting other students. Instead, a smaller number of students are (unknowingly or not) committing a majority of the assaults. Prevention programs geared towards the majority of students who will never assault have been successful at educating and empowering them to intervene as bystanders to prevent a potential assault from happening.

The special topics course is offered through the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies (WST 4930) and cross-listed through the Department of Psychology (PSY 4930). Enrollment is now open.

Burns will be a guest speaker at “Just Another Assault” hosted by FIU’s Panhellenic Council and will give more details about the course. The event will take place at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 6 in the Student Academic Support Complex at FIU’s Modesto A. Maidique Campus. The talk features Bonny Shade, a sexual assault survivor and includes a powerful message on sexual assault, rape culture and recovery.