What to Share with College-Bound Teens about Sexual Assault

college student in library

How often does sex abuse happen on college campuses? These statistics from the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN, an American nonprofit anti-sexual assault organization) are worth sharing with your college student:

  • 13% of all students experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence or incapacitation.
  • Among undergraduate students, 26.4% of females and 6.8% of males experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence or incapacitation.

As reported by the American Psychological Association (APA), the period from the arriving at campus until leaving for Thanksgiving is a particularly vulnerable time for students in their first year at school.

Victims Often Do Not Report Sexual Assault to Law Enforcement

Many college-age victims do not report sexual crimes for a number of reasons. In the APA report, these reasons were common:

  • 31-35% believed it was a personal matter
  • 23-26% had a fear of reprisal
  • 12-19% believed it was not important enough to report
  • 10-14% did not want the perpetrator to get in trouble
  • 9-10% believed the police would or could not help

Students who report sexual crimes often do so months after the incident–when the incident is having an impact they’re not able to manage themselves.

A Growing Awareness of What is Considered Sexual Assault

More students are becoming aware of what counts as sexual assault. A 2021 study, involving 2,566 students, showed awareness dovetailed with the growth of the #MeToo movement.

This study found an increasing recognition that past unwanted sexual incidents were “sexual assault.”

Students Pushing for Prevention and Intervention

Today’s students want more than short online programs at registration. There are more marches and rallies against sexual violence, and students want schools to offer comprehensive, community-centered prevention.

At Rutgers University, clinical psychologist Courtenay Cavanaugh, PhD, observed that students in her classes focused on violence against women didn’t want to only learn about sexual attacks; they wanted to learn how to prevent them.

Bystander Intervention

Cavanaugh started teaching bystander intervention in 2017.

An analysis of 24 studies exploring bystander intervention programs noted short-term benefits. For six months or longer after the programs, students who took part in these efforts shared stronger beliefs about sexual violence, and tried to intervene when they saw it happening, compared with those who didn’t learn about bystander intervention.

Protective Behavioral Strategies

Psychologists are studying whether strategies called “protective behavioral strategies” may lead to better prevention efforts. These efforts already ing promise when the behavior in question is the consumption of alcohol.

College students who adopted these strategies, such as taking an alcoholic and then a nonalcoholic one before another alcoholic drink, were less apt to drive drunk or engage in other risky behaviors.

What Else Colleges Can Do

When violence of a sexual nature happens, schools can offer a two-pronged support system:

  1. a counseling center, plus an
  2. advocacy service to guide people in reporting crimes to law enforcement.

At Lehigh University, about 12 advocates provide assistance to students dealing with sexual assault and other violence. Their training includes helping LGBT students.

Recently, good news has shown that some administrators are understanding the culture of the institution must be adapted to protect everyone on campus:

  • In October 2021, the University of Nebraska–Lincoln suspended the the fraternity where an assault allegedly took place through 2026.
  • In November, the president of Virginia Tech announced he was creating a new Sexual Violence and Culture and Climate work group.

What Else Students Can Do

If your child has been sexually assaulted, they may want to process the experience with an off-campus therapist. Search “best sex counselors nearby” and ask the therapists that come up if they have experience with young sexual assault victims.