Trigger Warning: This Article Will Discuss Sexual Assault

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. During this month, people strive to raise awareness about sexual violence, how to prevent it, and how to support those who are affected by it. 

Sexual assault is defined as “illegal sexual contact that usually involves force upon a person without consent or is inflicted upon a person who is incapable of giving consent.” It can take many forms including rape, unwanted sexual contact of any other form, sexual exploitation, sexual coercion, and sexual harassment. 

Sexual violence can happen anywhere and to women and men of all ages but is an alarmingly common crime on college campuses. 

Statistics About Sexual Assault on College Campuses

  •  One in five women in college experiences sexual assault.
  • Studies show that students are at the highest risk of sexual assault in the first few months of their first and second semesters in college
  • Sexual assault happens most often to traditionally college-age women (18–24).
  • Male college-aged students (18-24) are 78% more likely than non-students of the same age to be a survivor of rape or sexual assault.
  • Female college-aged students (18-24) are 20% less likely than non-students of the same age to be a survivor of rape or sexual assault.
  • 23.1% of TGQN (transgender, genderqueer, nonconforming) college students have been sexually assaulted.
  • More than 50% of college sexual assaults occur in either August, September, October, or November.
  • Students are at an increased risk during the first few months of their first and second semesters in college.

Statistics About Sexual Assault on HBCU Campuses  

According to The HBCU Campus Sexual Assault Study

  • Black women at HBCUs are most likely to experience physically forced sexual assault (use or threats of physical force) than their white PWI counterparts who primarily experience sexual assault while incapacitated (under the influence due to the use of drugs and/or alcohol).
  • The majority of sexual assaults occur during the months of September (the first few weeks of a school year is called the red zone, most freshmen are sexually assaulted at this time), October (Homecoming and related events), and March (Spring Break).
  • First and second-year students are most likely to be sexually victimized.
  • In 90% of sexual assaults that occur at HBCUs, the survivor knows their attacker.
  • Of those who experience incapacitated sexual assault, only a small percentage (fewer than 5%) of survivors report being drugged without their consent.

Why Does Sexual Assault on College Campuses Go Underreported?

According to RAINN, most college-age survivors do not report sexual violence on campus. Only about 20% of female college students report sexual assaults to authorities.

Many students who experience sexual violence on campus are hesitant to report it to officials for many reasons, such as worrying that they won’t be believed, fearing retaliation, or not wanting to rehash a traumatic experience.  Thus, official reports downplay its occurrence. 

According to the American Association of University Women, despite numerous studies showing that rape is common on campuses, 89% of colleges and universities reported zero incidents of rape. 

Like women, male survivors report sexual assault at low rates, potentially due to shame, humiliation, or the stigma surrounding men being vulnerable.

Some students may feel a lack of support from campus police that prevents them from reporting. According to the HBCU Campus Sexual Assault Study, 10% of physically forced sexual assault survivors and 3% of incapacitated sexual assault survivors report to law enforcement, usually through campus police. Fewer than 20% of HBCU survivors report to crisis or health centers, and of those who do, nearly 75% report to centers not affiliated with their school. Fewer than half of survivors were satisfied with law enforcement’s handling of cases and 36% of physically forced and 69% of incapacitated sexual assault survivors regretted reporting to law enforcement.

How Does Experiencing Sexual Assault Affect Students?

Sexual assault can have serious mental and physical negative effects on college students. This includes sexually transmitted infections, sexual health problems, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, chronic illness, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

These conditions can negatively impact a student’s self-esteem, ability to maintain relationships with friends and family, and desire to attend social events or club activities.

The effects of sexual violence can also impact a student’s academic performance, as a  recent study found that, sexual assault was associated with more academic problems including lower grade point average, dropping out of university, and self-regulated learning problems.

How Can We Address College Sexual Assault? 

Sexual assault is never the victim’s fault, and support and help are available. 

After experiencing sexual violence, it is important to get somewhere safe away from the perpetrator, document what happened, and seek medical attention. 

Survivors who go straight to the hospital can get help from local authorities to file a report. They can also call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) so a trained representative can provide assistance and direction. 

There are many support groups for sexual assault survivors, some even on campus. Survivors may also seek counseling through campus health services or the National Sexual Assault Hotline

Survivors can also take legal action if they feel comfortable coming forward with the experience. By law, colleges and universities that receive Title IX funding must respond to reports of sexual violence immediately and if they don’t follow through, students can take legal action. Coming forward may be scary for survivors but can create awareness for other students and encourage them to tell their story as well, and hold the perpetrator accountable. 

If you or someone you know has been affected by sexual violence, consider the resources below:

  • National Sexual Assault Online Hotline — Call 1-800-656-HOPE (4673)
    RAINN runs this secure and anonymous crisis support phone line and chat system. The resource is dedicated to assisting sexual assault survivors, along with their spouses or partners, family members, and friends.
  • National Domestic Violence Hotline — Call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)
    If you’re unsure how to get away from an abusive partner, call this free, confidential hotline. You can also chat online or text START to 88788.
  • AAUW’s Campus Sexual Assault Tool Kit
    AAUW created this resource to help faculty and campus staff lead student discussions around sexual violence prevention.
  • Safe Horizon
    A national violence prevention network, Safe Horizon offers hotlines dedicated to crisis support, as well as connections to community programs, counseling centers, and other resources.
  • Know Your Rights: Sexual Harassment and Assault on Campus
    Created by AAUW, this comprehensive resource educates students on how they are protected on campus and how to seek legal action when facing sexual violence.
  • National Coalition Against Domestic Violence
    NCADV is a leading organization that works with victims of sexual violence in domestic and intimate relationships.
  • RAINN Student Activism
    RAINN provides an array of resources for students interested in getting involved and making a difference on their campuses to help combat sexual violence.