Sexual Violence on College Campuses

With school starting in the next few weeks, university students have a lot to think about: moving, schedules, the last-minute books and materials they need, and so on. Right now, both students and faculty are faced with even more stress than usual with classes are starting up in the middle of a pandemic.

Unfortunately, COVID-19 isn’t the only safety concern on campuses. While rates of sexual violence have dropped among college students in recent years, far too many reports of assault are still surfacing each semester. 

What is sexual violence?

As explained in STM Learning’s Sexual Assault Victimization Across the Life Span, Second Edition, Vol. 3, sexual violence is often defined as any unwanted sexual contact from another person(s). This can inappropriate touching, any form of sexual assault, and rape.

Sexual violence can lead to a variety of situational risk factors, such as negative effects on physical health (eg, STIs) and emotional health (eg, anxiety, depression), which can impact students’ academic performance and increase the likelihood of alcohol and drug abuse. 

How many students are affected?

According to RAINN, 11.2% of all levels of students in the US experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence, or incapacitation. Slightly over 23% of undergraduate women have experienced some form of sexual violence. While a lesser percentage of men are victims of sexual assault overall, male students are considerably more likely to face sexual violence than men in the same age group who aren’t in school. 

Students on the LGBTQ+ spectrum are particularly vulnerable to sexual violence on campuses. Twenty-one percent of transgender, non-binary, or genderqueer individuals have been sexually assaulted while in college. Over 70% of LGBTQ+ students have experienced some form of sexual harassment or abuse. Among these populations, bisexual women have reported the most rape and physical/sexual abuse.

Additionally, about half of LGBTQ+ students of color have reported being victims of verbal harassment during school. Women of color are also more likely to experience sexual violence than white women, although they are less likely to report it. 

While these numbers are already unnerving, a majority of the incidents and threats of sexual violence on college campuses tend to go unreported. Rape and other forms of sexual assault in general are among the most under-reported crimes.

What resources are available?

On Campus

Under the Clery Act, universities are required to report a number of crimes, including sexual violence, to authorities. Many universities will require faculty members to act as mandated reporters, and the designation is sometimes given to leaders of student organizations as well. While mandated reporters can be a good point of contact, understand that this title requires them to inform the university if any type of sexual violence is disclosed to them.

If students wish to report an assault themselves, most on-campus police stations have a phone number that is available to call 24/7. Several university law enforcement agencies have staff specifically responsible for assisting survivors and hosting rape prevention programs. Some schools also have programs set up where students can call an officer to escort them if they don’t feel comfortable walking across campus alone at night.

All universities are also required to have a Title IX coordinator to ensure the school is complying with nationwide regulations for handling complaints of sex discrimination, which includes reports of sexual violence. 

Off Campus

  • The National Sexual Assault Hotline (1-800-656-4673) is available 24/7 to assist anyone wanting to report or talk about sexual abuse.  
  • End Rape on Campus has compiled a list of resources specifically for survivors of color.
  • Know Your IX breaks down student rights and offers legal advice for survivors.
  • This article details step-by-step instructions on what actions to take immediately after an assault; it also includes advice on moving forward and long-term recovery.   


STM Learning, Inc.

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