Prioritizing Primary Prevention and Awareness Programs for all Incoming Students and Employees


This is part two of an Vector Solutions (formerly Everfi's Campus Prevention Network) blog series regarding Clery Act & Title IX compliance, and sexual assault prevention best practices. You can learn more by reading part one, here.

New Clery Act mandates, put in place by the 2013 re-authorization of the Violence Against Women Act, have now gone into effect requiring all colleges and universities to offer “primary prevention and awareness programs” to all incoming students and employees.

But questions remain for many institutions: how do primary prevention and awareness programs differ, and how will prevention and compliance officers meet and exceed these mandates?

For clarification, the definitions of these two separate programmatic approaches—primary prevention and awareness—are detailed below (Figure 1).

Primary Prevention Programs Awareness Programs
Primary prevention programs means programming, initiatives, and strategies informed by research or assessed for value, effectiveness, or outcome that are intended to stop dating violence, domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking before they occur through the promotion of positive and healthy behaviors that foster healthy, mutually respectful relationships and sexuality, encourage safe bystander intervention, and seek to change behavior and social norms in healthy and safe directions. Awareness programs means community-wide or audience- specific programming, initiatives, and strategies that increase audience knowledge and share information and resources to prevent violence, promote safety, and reduce perpetration.


Figure 1. Primary Prevention and Awareness Programs, as Defined in VAWA Negotiated Rulemaking

Prevention efforts must go beyond increasing knowledge and awareness about definitions, policies, statistics, and resources. From a best practice perspective, primary prevention programs should be developed to address the root causes of violence and abuse in order to prevent their initial occurrence. The end goal is to reduce—and ultimately eliminate—the risk of sexual assault perpetration and victimization. Put simply, we are striving for behavior change – decreasing dangerous or harmful behaviors and increasing healthy, positive behaviors. Awareness programs, alone, have not been shown to impact behavior in the absence of a more comprehensive approach that addresses the attitudes, expectations, experiences, and social norm (mis)perceptions that drive behavior.

Sexual assault stems from a confluence of such factors that contribute to greater risk for experiencing or perpetrating violence. The Social Ecological Model (Figure 2) is a public health framework for addressing these individual, relational, community, and societal influences that should be incorporated into prevention programs to ensure that they are comprehensive and effective. Done well, primary prevention programs can spark a positive cultural shift necessary for driving down rates of sexual assault, on campuses and beyond.

 Figure 2. Social Ecological Model

For many schools, investing in primary prevention helps to address sexual and relationship violence before it happens, reducing the impact these crimes have on students, staff, and the campus community at large. Successful prevention programs that, over time, lead to lower rates of violence will decrease the need for institutions to invest as heavily in response, ultimately lowering the direct and indirect costs of these offenses.

In fact, studies have shown substantial return-on-investment (ROI) of public health prevention programming, with additional savings on intervention and treatment costs. One study found that for every $1 invested in community-based prevention, the return amounts to $5.60, or an ROI of 460%.

The Clery Act legislation requires institutions to provide primary prevention programs to all incoming students, staff, and faculty. This includes transfer, graduate, and non-traditional student populations like online enrollees, military, and more. Providing education to such diverse populations at scale can be difficult for many campuses, so the addition of online programs is becoming an invaluable prevention approach for many schools, including Oregon State University.

“We were looking for something that would help us meet all of our compliance requirements,” says Roni Sue, Co-Associate Director of Bias Prevention and Education with Oregon State University’s Office of Equity & Inclusion. “But we also required a program that would drive real positive changes in student attitudes and behaviors.”

Oregon State has been able to achieve a 95% completion rate of their sexual assault prevention programs for incoming students by incorporating online training, allowing the University to address key compliance requirements and protect their diverse campus population.

As institutional leadership consider these mandates, and what they mean for their students, faculty, staff, and institution, we’ve compiled a free Title IX and Clery Act guidebook to help institutions meet and exceed compliance. In addition, we will be hosting a webinar on this topic on Wednesday, August 5th, from 2 to 3 PM (EST).

Want to Know More?

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