Relationship and Sexual Violence – Assessment Initiative (RSV-AI)

The goal of the RSV-AI is to develop a comprehensive assessment system to advance the prevention and response to campus sexual assault and relationship violence.

Despite decades of research, advocacy, and community organizing, rates of sexual assault, relationship violence, sexual harassment, and stalking remain stubbornly high. The RSV-AI takes a public health approach, aiming to fill a gap in the field’s ability to provide timely and targeted information to university officials and service providers about how best to allocate prevention efforts.

Why Develop a Comprehensive Assessment System?

Though efforts to prevent relationship and sexual violence are ongoing, the field as a whole lacks strong public health monitoring systems. The RSV-AI convenes transdisciplinary research teams with the goal of developing a comprehensive assessment system so that we can approach relationship and sexual violence with the same level of detailed, targeted information that public health departments use to solve problems such as foodborne illness or the flu.

How Does Public Health Currently Use Such Assessment Systems?

Public health officials collect information, not just on who is most at risk of certain diseases such as the flu, but also on what areas of the country currently have a particularly high risk of the flu, or if there has been a flu outbreak at a particular location, such as a local preschool. This information helps them make sure that there is enough flu vaccine in high risk areas and that treatment is available in areas where there have been outbreaks. In the case of foodborne illness, public health officials routinely recall food products, such as romaine lettuce, that have been contaminated with various pathogens. Doing this requires them to have good data about specifically which variety of romaine, produced in which region of the country, is making people sick. Having this data means that only contaminated romaine needs to be recalled, rather than all salad greens.

What Does the Flu & Food Poisoning Have to Do With Violence Prevention?

The RSV-AI is focused on preventing relationship and sexual violence, not food poisoning or the flu. However, we can learn from these examples of public health prevention, all of which rely on the existence of a strong monitoring and assessment system that can identify specifically how people are becoming sick. In the case of relationship and sexual violence, the RSV-AI aims to develop a comprehensive assessment system would be able to accomplish three things:

• Detect changes in the social epidemiology of relationship and sexual violence
• Provide forensic evaluation of individuals repeatedly endangering community safety
• Regularly evaluate campus prevention and response efforts

With this information, the University can be better equipped to target prevention efforts where they are most needed, just like public health departments direct flu vaccine and treatment resources to areas where there is high risk of flu. The University would also be able to better identify and intervene with individuals before behavior escalates into more serious perpetration. Finally, the University would have the information to modify or scale up prevention and response programs as needed.

Why Focus on Universities?

During the undergraduate and graduate years, there is large increase in the risk of intimate partner victimization for both men and women, as well as a smaller increase in risk of sexual assault victimization for women. Since approximately 50% of the U.S. population has attended a university, if we can develop an effective and scalable comprehensive assessment system that can prevent that onset in victimization, the impact could be felt at the population level.

Additionally, universities generally have more access to information about their constituents and more opportunities for prevention than other communities, which can be used to research and develop public health assessment methods. Combined with talented students, faculty, and staff with research and content expertise, Washington University has a unique role to play in developing an innovative comprehensive assessment system that can provide us the information we need to implement targeted, timely, and effective prevention.

Meeting the Challenge

To meet this challenge, the RSV-AI works with University service providers, staff, students, and administrators to identify high priority issues. The Initiative then convenes transdisciplinary research teams of students and faculty to develop innovative solutions to these problems.

In addition to addressing methodological problems, the RSV-AI is also working closely with the Evaluation Center and the Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention (RSVP) Center to develop a plan to evaluate the prevention and response efforts in place at Washington University. The goal is to use current evaluation best practices to assess what is working and how prevention and response efforts can be improved at Wash U.

The RSV-AI also aims to train the next generation of violence prevention professionals by providing opportunities for students from across the university to participate in RSV-AI activities and receive advanced training in creating comprehensive assessment systems that effectively prevent and respond to violence at the community level.

These activities are brought together each semester at a convening where we introduce a new idea, share results from one of our projects, and provide opportunities for students, faculty, staff, and the larger community to exchange ideas as part of a poster session.

Get Involved!

The RSV-AI offers opportunities for students to be trained through a practicum or internship, or gain experience as a research assistant. University and community service providers are also welcome to reach out to us to learn more about the Initiative and share results from community prevention and response efforts. We are especially interested in identifying opportunities to develop and pilot assessment methods. Likewise, we encourage any faculty or staff members with expertise in content or methods to reach out to us by contacting either Sarah Pritchard or Peter Hovmand.

Our Team

Initiative Lead, Peter S. Hovmand, PhD, MSW
Professor of Practice and Director of the Social System Design Lab
314-935-7968 | phovmand@wustl.edu

Initiative Co-Lead, Sarah R. Pritchard, MPH, MSW
314-935-8728 | sarahRpritchard@wustl.edu

Practicum Student, Mary Reid, MPH/MSW Candidate
m.m.reid@wustl.edu

Practicum Student, Sinko Wang, MSW Candidate
wang.xinli@wustl.edu

Research Assistant, Bonnie Simonoff, BA Candidate, bsimonoff@wustl.edu

Research Assistant, Ethan Gutmann-Goldstein, MSW Candidate
e.goldstein@wustl.edu