APHA intern Erin Voichoski. Photo by Mighty Fine/APHA

APHA intern Erin Voichoski. Photo by Mighty Fine/APHA

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men report a rape experience at some point in their lives, while 1 in 20 women and men experience a form of sexual violence other than rape. Rather than focusing merely on individuals, APHA is looking at ways to prevent sexual violence on a population level.

This summer APHA intern Erin Voichoski, a rising sophomore at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, joined the “Not Alone” initiative at CDC to critically address the major question: How can we prevent sexual violence on college campuses? Public Health Newswire caught up with Voichoski to share her thoughts.

Q: What is the importance of focusing on sexual assault from a public health perspective, on and off campus?

A: It really is a public health issue that can be addressed, and often times I think people don’t realize that it’s a public health issue. They think of it more as a personal issue and an individual level “thing” but sexual violence really is something that can be addressed by universities. They can play a protective role in preventing assault with a variety of strategies across the social-ecological model.

Q: And how can universities and students play this protective role?

A: Universities kind of have a unique and valuable opportunity to reach a large number of people — (with) students from a variety of populations — and there’s really something that they can do: educating about consent and educating about alcohol use and sexual violence, whether it be promoting sexual health and positive relationships, or bystander intervention and engaging men.

There are ways that (universities) can implement programs that make students really aware of risks and what they can do to help prevent sexual violence on their own campuses.

Q: Sexual violence is an issue typically geared towards women. How important is it to include men in this conversation and how can you include them?

A: It’s really important to engage men by addressing them as partners in prevention rather than potential perpetrators, and really letting them know that they have a really unique and important role as peer influencers.

Within their social groups there’s a lot men can do, like letting one another know that they don’t support sexually violent attitudes and behaviors. They really just have a unique role among themselves and really have an important opportunity to dispel their own norms that facilitate sexual violence.

Q: How can APHA and public health professionals help prevent sexual violence?

A: Sexual violence is a public health issue because it affects such a large number of people. It is something that can be prevented. It’s a public health issue because survivors of sexual violence experience risk for sexually transmitted diseases, persistent mental health problems — like depression and anxiety — and the public health community, from the point of advocacy, should really support universities that are implementing programs.

When I went to the (Action Planning) meeting at the CDC, APHA and the CDC were working together to help teams implement their action plans that they came up with for their own college campuses and their local communities. We can really play a role in assisting them with those prevention strategies.

For more information on preventing sexual violence on college campuses, check out our conversation with APHA Center for Professional Development Deputy Director Mighty Fine.