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Campus Sexual Violence


Data on Campus Sexual Violence



College women have an even higher rate of sexual victimization than most woman in the United States—several national studies have indicated that 5% of college females experience rape within an academic year (Kilpatrick, Resnick, Ruggiero, Conoscenti, & McCauley, 2007; Mohler-Kuo, Dowdall, Koss, & Wechsler, 2004)). Women within the typical age bracket of college students, ages 20 to 24, also experience the largest per capita rate of nonfatal intimate partner violence (Catalano, 2007) and the highest rate of stalking (Baum, Catalano, Rand, & Rose, 2009).



The National College Women Sexual Victimization Study used a national sample of 4,446 women who were attending a 2- or 4-year college or university. It reported 35 incidents of rape per year for every 1,000 female students at an institution of higher education (Fisher, Cullen, & Turner, 2000). For a campus with 10,000 women, this would mean 350 rapes or more during an academic year. In addition to rape, this study found that the incidents of other forms of sexual violence (sexual coercion, unwanted sexual contact and threats of sexual victimization) ranged from 9.5 to 66.4 per 1,000 female students.


Who are the Perpetrators?

Nine out of ten of the rape victims in the National College Women Sexual Victimization Study knew their offenders—most often they were their boyfriends, ex-boyfriends, classmates, friends, acquaintances, or co-workers. Another survey indicated that three out of four sexual assault victims knew their offender (Hart, 2003). Among college students, 13% of completed, 35% of attempted, and 23% of threatened rapes took place while on a date (Fisher, Cullen, & Turner, 2000). Clearly, the vast majority of rapes on campus are perpetrated by someone known to the victims rather than by strangers.



Risk Factors for Sexual Victimization of College Students

Numerous risk factors, including those briefly summarized below, are associated with sexual victimization of college students. This summary is meant only to identify key risk factors that may contribute to sexual victimization. How these factors contribute to sexual victimization are detailed in the cited references. Note that most studies cited focus on women rather than men due to the high rates of sexual assault of college women.


Victims are never responsible for sexual assaults perpetrated against them. The presence of one or more risk factors does not cause or justify sexual assault. Perpetrators must be held fully accountable for their actions.



Prior Victimization

Women who experience a sexual assault while attending college, as well as those who have been sexually assaulted prior to college, are at risk for further victimization during their college careers (Fisher, Cullen & Turner, 2000). Similarly, women who have a history of dating violence are more at risk for sexual violence while in college (American College Health Association, 2004).



Alcohol and Drug Use

Given the widespread use of alcohol in college social settings, it is no surprise that a majority of sexual assaults of college women involve alcohol consumption, by either or both the victims and perpetrators (Abbey, 2002; Abbey et al., 1996; Koss et al., 1987; Presley et al., 1997; as cited in Mohler-Kuo et al., 2004). One study found that at least half of all acquaintance rapes took place after the perpetrator, the victim or both had been drinking (Tjaden & Thoennes, 2006). Attending a college where heavy drinking is the norm (where more than 50 percent of students "binge drink") has been related to increased risk of alcohol-involved sexual assault (Mohler-Kuo et al., 2004; Norris, 2008). Heavy drinking puts victims at risk for more severe sexual assaults (Abbey, Clinton-Sherrod, McAuslan, Zawacki, & Buck, 2003). Drug use has also been associated with increased risk of sexual assault, especially sexual assault while intoxicated (Mohler-Kuo et al., 2004). There is a strong connection between alcohol consumption and drug-facilitated rape. One study found that 84.9 percent of drug-facilitated sexual assaults were preceded by the victim's voluntary alcohol consumption (Lawyer et al, 2010).


See Norris (2008) and Abbey (2008) for a discussion of the multiple, complex ways that alcohol contributes to sexual assault perpetration and victimization. Alcohol does not cause someone to be a sex offender or a victim. It can, however, reduce the inhibitions of offenders and render their victims helpless.



Class Rank and Age

College students are at an increased risk of sexual victimization during their first weeks of school (sometimes referred to by campus prevention programs as the "Red Zone"). There is also a greater risk of sexual victimization for freshmen and sophomores than for juniors and seniors. One study found that during their first four semesters at college, 84 percent of women experienced sexually coercive experiences (Gross et al., 2006). In addition, underage women are more likely to experience sexual assault than those 21 and over (Mohler-Kuo et al., 2004).



Living Environment

Sexual assaults occur both on and off campus, in the victims' living quarters and other living quarters and at fraternities, bars, nightclubs and work settings (Fisher, Cullen & Turner, 2000). Research suggests that students who live in sorority houses or belong to sororities have an increased risk for sexual victimization (Copenhaver & Grauerholz, 1991; Franklin, 2010; Kalof, 1993; Mohler-Kuo et al., 2004; Tyler, Holt & Whitbeck, 1998).



Greek Affiliation

As indicated above, there is some evidence that being a member of a sorority increases the risk of sexual victimization. Fraternity members and student athletes are more likely than any other men on campus to commit a sexual assault (Murnen & Kohlman, 2007). Fisher, Cullen and Turner (2000) found that of the rapes reported by students surveyed in their study, 10.3 percent occurred in a fraternity house.



Race/ Ethnicity

White women and Native Americans appear to be most at-risk for rape on a college campus while Asian-Americans have the lowest risk (Tjaden & Theonnes, 2006). However, white women are less likely to experience physically forced or threatened forcible rapes than women of other ethnicities or races (Mohler-Kuo et al., 2004).



Consensual Sexual Experiences

There is a correlation between the number of sex partners a college woman has had and an increased risk for being sexually assaulted, especially when intoxicated (Tyler, Hoyt, & Whitbeck, 1998; Parks et al., 2008). One study (Parks et al, 2008) indicates that "women who have more consensual sexual partners are more likely to encounter a sexually aggressive individual and are more likely to experience sexual victimization." At the same time, women who increased their drinking are more likely to be behaviorally and cognitively impaired and less likely to recognize, avoid or defend against sexual aggression (Science Daily, 2008).



Sexual Harassment on College Campuses

Sexual harassment is a widespread problem on college campuses. The American Association of University Women Education Foundation estimates that two-thirds of college students have an experience with sexual harassment by the end of their college career (Hill & Silva, 2005).



Victim Reactions

The emotional trauma associated with sexual harassment can lead student victims to have difficulty concentrating, have lower grades, be absent and withdraw from classes, change majors and drop out of school (Sexual Harassment Support, 2011).



Sexual Harassment Laws that Apply to Students

Sexual harassment is a civil rights violation of federal and state discrimination laws in qualifying settings. The law applicable in educational settings is Title IX of the Education Amendment of 1972. The amendment prohibits sexual harassment in schools and colleges that receive federal funding. Additionally, employed college students may be protected by federal or state laws if sexual harassment occurs at their workplaces.



What Can Victims on College Campuses Do?

Victims should become familiar with the sexual harassment policies and grievance/complaint procedures of the college/university and file a report accordingly. This information is most likely found in each campus's student handbook. Once familiar with the policy, students can then choose whether to report the sexual harassment or bring the matter to the attention of a higher authority on campus. Some policies may require that a report be made within a certain amount of time, so it is important that victims familiarize themselves with these policies as early as possible.



Reporting Sexual Assaults on College Campuses

Note that the following information is not presented as legal advice, but as basic information.



Options for Reporting

Generally, college students have two reporting options. It is their decision whether or not to report.


  • Reporting a sexual assault to local law enforcement activates the criminal justice system, which can potentially provide protection to victims, case investigation and, with sufficient evidence, prosecution of the offenders. (Office on Violence Against Women, 2004).
  • Reporting a sexual assault to the campus judicial system allows the college/university the opportunity to investigate the case and potentially take action that could result in disciplinary action against the offender.

It is important for college victims to understand that reports to the local criminal justice system and campus judicial system are separate. Campus policies differ, so students will need to find out the specific procedure on their campus. Any report of a sexual assault on a campus should initiate an investigation that is reviewed by the campus judicial system and has the potential for a campus-related judiciary action, such as expulsion. Victims should also understand that, although there is no statute of limitations in reporting a sexual assault in the criminal justice system, reporting to the campus may have time limits depending on the nature of the incident.


On some campuses, reporting the assault activates both the criminal justice system and the campus judicial system. On other campuses, victims have to report the assault to both the campus and local law enforcement to activate both systems.


Students who report may also wish to consider seeking a private attorney to advocate on their behalf in a criminal case or during campus judicial system proceedings.



Special Note Regarding the Collection of Evidence and Not Initially Reporting the Assault to Law Enforcement

Victims can go to a licensed medical facility within about 96 hours of the assault for potential evidence to be collected through a forensic medical examination without reporting the assault to law enforcement (if it is a non-mandatory reporting situation). If a victim chooses to have a forensic medical examination but does NOT want to initiate or participate in any investigation relating to the sexual assault, the forensic evidence is collected and stored at Marshall University Forensic Center (MUFSC). It is important to note that if liquid samples were collected as a part of the toxicology kit (blood and urine), the samples will have a limited life span and will degrade over time. All samples collected as a part of the rest of the examination (swabs, etc) will have an unlimited lifespan if collected and dried properly.


Should the decision be made later to initiate an investigation in a non-reported case, the victim would need to contact law enforcement and provide the kit tracking number for law enforcement to be able to secure the sex crime evidence collection kit from MUFSC.


If an investigation has not been initiated within 18 months from its time of collection, the evidence collection kit will be categorized as "non-active." Samples collected as part of the forensic medical examination in "non-active" kits may be used for training purposes once all identifying information has been removed. After the 18 month time period, if the "non-active" sex crime evidence collection kit has not been used for training purposes, the victim can still request that an investigation be initiated. There is no statute of limitations on reporting a sexual assault in West Virginia.



Civil Legal and Other Remedies

As has been noted, very few college student sexual assault victims report their victimization (Fisher, Daigle, Cullen & Turner, 2003). Some of the common reasons include fear of retaliation by perpetrators and others in the community, fear of rejection by family/friends/acquaintances, self-blame and unwillingness to deal with the humiliation, loss of privacy and negativity they perceive would accompany a report (Office on Violence Against Women, 2004). Given this reluctance to report, it is important for victims to know other available options.


  • Civil legal options (e.g., to pursue monetary compensation for losses suffered), either in place of or in addition to criminal/campus judicial system actions. Civil legal options may be influenced by state statute of limitations.
  • Non-legal services available to help victims heal, both on-campus and in the community (most of which are not influenced by reporting decisions; with one exception: access to West Virginia Crime Victim Compensation funds). For example, a student victim may want counseling or assistance in transferring to a different on-campus residence or out of a class she attends with the offender. Local rape crisis centers provide free and confidential services to students.



Campus Sexual Assault Victims' Bill of Rights

A related federal amendment, the Campus Sexual Assault Victims' Bill of Rights, was passed in 1992. This amendment required schools to provide certain basic rights to survivors of sexual assaults on campuses (Center for Public Integrity, 2010). These rights include (Center for Public Integrity, 2010):


  • Giving alleged victims and assailants equal opportunity to have others present in disciplinary proceedings and equal notification of the outcome of such proceedings;
  • Notifying alleged victims of counseling services and their right to pursue legal ramifications through local law enforcement; and
  • Notifying alleged victims of their option to change classes or dormitory assignments to avoid contact with alleged assailants.




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Abbey, A. (2002). Alcohol-related sexual assault: A common problem among college students. J. Stud. Alcohol, 14, 118-128.


Abbey, A., Clinton-Sherrod, A., McAuslan, P., Zawacki, T., & Buck, P. (2003). The relationship between the quantity of alcohol consumed and the severity of sexual assault committed by college men. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 18, 813-833.


Abbey, A., Ross, L., McDuffie, D. & McAuslan, P. (1996). Alcohol and dating risk factors for sexual assault among college women. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 20, 147-169.


American College Health Association (2004). National College Health Assessment: Reference Group Executive Summary. Baltimore, MD: American College Health Association.


Baum, K., Catalano, S., Rand, M. & Rose, K. (2009). Stalking victimization in the United States. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics. Through http://www.ncvc.org/src.


Catalano, S. (2007). Intimate Partner Violence in the United States. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics.


Center for Public Integrity (2010). Reporter's toolkit: Investigating sexual assault cases on your campus. Retrieved from: http://www.publicintegrity.org/investigations/campus_assault/toolkit/.


Copenhaver, S. & Grauerholz, E. (1991). Sexual victimization among sorority women: Exploring the links between sexual violence and institutional practices. Sex Roles, 24(1-2), 31-41.


Fisher, B., Cullen, F. & Turner, M. (2000). The Sexual Victimization of College Women. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice.


Fisher, B., Daigle, L., Cullen, F., & Turner, M. (2003). Reporting sexual victimization to the police and others: Results from a national-level study of college women. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 30(1), 6-38.


Franklin, C. (2010). Physically forced, alcohol-induced, and verbally coerced sexual victimization: Assessing risk factors among university women. Journal of Criminal Justice, 30(2), 149-159.


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Hill, C. & Silva, E. (2004). Drawing the line: Sexual harassment on campus. Washington, DC: American Association of University Women Education Foundation.


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Murnen, S. & Kohlman, M. (2007). Athletic participation, fraternity membership, and sexual aggression among college men: A meta-analytic review. Sex Roles, 57, 145-157.


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Presley, C., Meilman, P., Cashin, J. & Leichliter, J. (1997). Alcohol and Drugs on American College Campuses: Issues of Violence and Harassment. Carbondale, IL: Core Institute, Southern Illinois University.


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Retrieved from: Clery Center for Security On Campus


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Tyler, K., Hoyt, D. & Whitbeck, L. (1998). Coercive sexual strategies. Violence and Victims, 13(1), 47- 61.