*Disclaimer: For the purposes of this piece, the terms ‘victimization’ and ‘victim’ will be used to describe all individuals who have experienced sexual violence and violation of consent. We at the Feminist Majority Foundation believe individuals have the right to choose whichever term they feel best represents their identity and experience, including, but not limited to victim, survivor or neither.
Sexual assault has negative effects on the well-being of victims. Among them include mental health problems, physical health problems, and impaired academic performance, which leads to likelihood of dropping courses, transferring, or leaving school. A common issue voiced by victims of sexual assault is the lack of action by college institutions to deal with perpetrators. Students who have been sexually assaulted are continuously victimized by seeing the perpetrator in class or on campus. This unfair situation is one of the many reasons victims drop courses or leave school all together.
I had the opportunity to attend a congressional briefing on the psychological findings of sexual assault on college campuses, hosted by the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues. This was an opportunity where Dr. Jacqueline White, a senior research assistant at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro, with the Administrator-Research Campus Climate Collaborative, shared her research. Dr. White focused particularly on the epidemiology and causes of violence, its psychological consequences, and the efficacy of prevention and intervention strategies at both campus and public policy levels.
According to Dr. White’s research only 1%-13% of sexual victimizations are reported; the largest percent of those reporting are white women. However, almost 59% report sexual assault experiences to family members or friends. Key reasons why victims are not reporting sexual assaults are fears of humiliation, being ostracized, and retaliation among others. This is why I believe we need stronger policies and institutions that can protect and support victims.
While preventing sexual assault on campus is a must, more should be done to protect victims of sexual assault. College administrations should be held accountable when it comes to creating safe spaces for all students. When the well-being of a victim is prioritized, this not only protects the victim, but it increases the chances of case reporting. In turn, this creates better chances of identifying who the perpetrators are and minimizes assaults. Prioritizing victims means creating programs and policies where victims are encouraged to share their experiences and talk to qualified individuals in order to address some of the negative effects experienced by victims. We need practical policies to be implemented by college administrations that respect a victim’s autonomy in deciding when and how to disclose and report. Addressing the aftermath of sexual assault minimizes the cases of sexual assaults that occur, a long term goal that will hopefully be achieved.
Research towards sexual assault on college campuses is important because it informs individuals and institutions on what kind of action to employ. This is why continued research is fundamental: questions that arise in the future can be answered and individuals and institutions will be equip to be better actors. So, what can institutions – especially college administrations – do to prevent or, at the very least, minimize sexual assaults? Support research and center programs and policies around victims.