The social ecological model is a fundamental part of public health and is used across the field to understand a variety of health issues. The social ecological model displays and describes the overlapping and interactive characteristics of an individual and their environment that will ultimately effect and contribute to their overall health (Golden & Earp, 2017). In 1988, Mcleroy, Bibeau, Steckler, and Glanz, presented five levels of influence that were specific to health behavior, the five levels include intrapersonal factors, interpersonal factors, institutional factors community factors, and public policy factors (Golden, et al., 2012). The social ecological model can be used to pinpoint factors and behaviors that influence health, but also can be used to propose solutions and interventions for each level of influence.
Explain the Health Issue
Sexual assault is a tragic epidemic that is not only sweeping the nation but sweeping the world. In 2014, Barak Obama created a task force to help protect students from sexual assault, while stating that “1 in 5 women on college campuses has been sexually assaulted during their time their” (Muehlenhard, Peterson, Humphreys, & Jozkowsi, 2017). Students at Columbia University and Barnard College in New York City didn’t know that they would be sexually assaulted when they enrolled at school there, but it was the unfortunate reality for far too many students. Since entering college, 22% of students reported an experience of sexual assault, which in this study is defined as “sexualized touching, attempted penetration [oral, anal, vaginal, other] or completed penetration” (Mellins, et al. 2017). There is a great variance in how sexual assault is defined which leads to a variance in sexual assault prevalence estimates.
Social Ecological Model
The intrapersonal level of the social ecological model includes characteristics of the individual, such as attitudes, knowledge, and developmental history (Golden, et al., 2012). An example of an interpersonal factor that could contribute to the prevalence of sexual assault in college students is one’s biological sex. If you are a woman on a college campus you are more likely to experience and report an assault. Female students reported a 28% rate of experiencing sexual assault as where male students only reported a 12.5% rate (Mellins, et al., 2017). Another intrapersonal factor that could account for an increased rate in prevalence of sexual assault is an individual’s gender. Gender nonconforming students had the highest rate of sexual assault prevalence at 38% (Mellins, et al., 2017).
The interpersonal level of the social ecological model refers to formal and informal social networks and social support systems (Golden, et al., 2012). An interpersonal factor that could contribute to sexual assault prevalence is a sorority membership. Females participating in a sorority reported a higher rate of penetrative assault, attempted penetrative assault, and touching assault as compared to females not in a sorority (Mellins, et al., 2017). Another example of an interpersonal factor that could account for an increased prevalence in sexual assault is a female’s relationship status. Females who reported a minimum of one hookup were more likely to experience penetrative assault, attempted penetrative assault, and touching assault. Females who reported no relationships and no hookups had the lowest rate of penetrative assault, attempted penetrative assault, and touching assault (Mellins, et al., 2017).
The institutional level of the social ecological model includes social institutions with organizational characteristics, and formal and informal rules and regulations (Golden, et al., 2012). Even though sexual assault prevalence in college is high, there is low levels of reporting the actual assaults. Some possibilities that can explain the low level of reporting in college students are the victim knowing the perpetrator, fear that their privacy will not be respected by the university, the victim is unsure whether the assault counts as a crime, and/or the victim was under the influence of drugs or alcohol during the time of the assault ( Dematteo, Galloway, Arnold, & Patel, 2015). The stigma around sexual assault needs to be broken down and support needs to be shown around campuses across America that reinforce open arms, counseling, and legal help for sexual assault survivors regardless of the situation. Another issue at the institutional level is the sex ed that adolescents receive in school. Sexual assault is not covered in most high school sex ed classes, where the main focus is abstinence-based sex education. The United states ranks first among all developed nations in regard to teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (Stanger-Hall & Hall, 2011). In order to reduce teenage pregnancy and the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases, the U.S. tried an abstinence only sex education program which is not only ineffective in preventing teenage pregnancy and actually led to an increase in pregnancy rates among teens, but also does not address the impending danger of sexual assault among adolescents and young adults heading into college (Stanger- Hall, et al,. 2011).
The community level of the social ecological model refers to relationships among organizations, institutions and informational networks within defined boundaries (Golden et al., 2012). It is a fact that there is a high prevalence of sexual assault tin college females, but an example of a community level factor that could explain low numbers in reporting is lack of trust in community police. If victims feel like they are not going to be helped and that they are going to be ignored, they are not going to come forward. In Detroit in 2009, roughly 11,000 rape kits were found in a storage facility, most of them being untested (Campbell, Shaw, & Fehler- Cabral, 2015). The few victims that do seek help from the medical system after an assault are most of the time advised to undergo the process of getting a rape kit done. A rape kit is used to “diagnose and treat injuries, offering emergency contraception to prevent pregnancy, administering prophylaxis for sexually transmitted disease that may have been contracted in the assault, and preserve the physical evidence form survivors bodies to aid in the prosecution of the crime” (Campbell, et al., 2015). Another community influence that can help in reporting the prevalence of sexual assault in college females is the planned parenthood. Planned parenthood is a non-profit provider of medical services pertaining specifically to family planning, sexual health, and abortions (Ramelb, 2013). Planned parenthood is supposed to be a safe place where women (and men alike) can go to receive free contraceptive, educate themselves on sex, get an abortion, and overall see a health care provider. With the defunding of planned parenthood comes the crumbling of a sacred safe space for lower income and vulnerable populations.
The policy level of the social ecological model refers to local, state, national, and global laws and policies (Golden et al., 2012.) One policy that helps victims come forward and report prevalence of sexual assault is Title IX. Title IX first started off to “establish equal access to any educational program for men and women” (Weis, 2015). In 2011, Vice President Biden released a statement directed at university stating that sexual violence is a clear violation of an institutions commitment to providing a discrimination- free environment and that school should be providing educational programs to help prevent sexual assault and sexual violence (Weis, 2015). Another policy that helps protect victims when they are reporting sexual assault is the violence against women’s act (VAWA). In 2013, President Barak Obama reauthorized the violence again women’s act, including a new section, 304 (Weis, 2015). Section 304, which is referred to as the SaVE Act expands on the Clery Act of 1990 and expands the list of reportable violence’s and also mandates that colleges and universities provides education on preventing domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking (Weis, 2015).
- Campbell, R., Shaw, J., & Fehler-Cabral, G. (2015). Shelving Justice: The Discovery of Thousands of Untested Rape Kits in Detroit. City & Community, 14(2), 151–166. doi: 10.1111/cico.12108
- Dematteo, D., Galloway, M., Arnold, S., & Patel, U. (2015). Sexual assault on college campuses: A 50-state survey of criminal sexual assault statutes and their relevance to campus sexual assault. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, 21(3), 227–238. doi: 10.1037/law0000055
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- Mellins, C. A., Walsh, K., Sarvet, A. L., Wall, M., Gilbert, L., Santelli, J. S., … Hirsch, J. S. (2017). Sexual assault incidents among college undergraduates: Prevalence and factors associated with risk. Plos One, 12(11). doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0186471
- Muehlenhard, C. L., Peterson, Z. D., Humphreys, T. P., & Jozkowski, K. N. (2017). Evaluating the One-in-Five Statistic: Women’s Risk of Sexual Assault While in College. The Journal of Sex Research, 54(4-5), 549–576. doi: 10.1080/00224499.2017.1295014
- Ramelb, C. (2013). Public health care funding: The battle over planned parenthood. Valparaiso University Law Review, 47(2), 499-536.
- Stanger-Hall, K. F., & Hall, D. W. (2011). Abstinence-Only Education and Teen Pregnancy Rates: Why We Need Comprehensive Sex Education in the U.S. Plos One, 6(10). doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0024658
- Wies, J. R. (2015). Title IX and the State of Campus Sexual Violence in the United States: Power, Policy, and Local Bodies. Human Organization, 74(3), 276–286. doi: 10.17730/0018-7259-74.3.276