Sexual violence is prevalent on college campuses nationwide. According to a 2000 National Institute of Justice study entitled, “The Sexual Victimization of College Women,” 20 to 25 percent of women are survivors of rape or attempted rape during their college years. This can have long-lasting psychological effects on the survivor. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that individuals subjected to sexual violence are at high risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, generalized anxiety, low self-esteem, suicidal thoughts and self-harm. New research indicates that educational programs outlining how to recognize and resist sexual violence have the potential to reduce the rates of abuse on campuses nationwide, though experts fear this approach indirectly contributes to victim-blaming.
A recent study published in June of 2015 found that educational programs on sexual violence can reduce a woman’s chance of being raped by nearly 50 percent. The study, “Efficacy of a Sexual Assault Resistance Program for University Women,” used a curriculum developed by lead author of the study and psychologist, Charlene Y. Senn, to educate women on defining their own sexual needs and desires, recognizing aggression and signs of sexual violence and developing skills for resisting assault. This came in the form of four three-hour lectures, exercises and martial arts self-defense courses. A control group was simply given a 15-minute lecture and brochures on sexual violence, which is considered the current norm in colleges and universities nationwide.
The women in the study were asked a series of questions regarding their history of sexual violence a year after their respective trainings. According to the results, 9.8 percent of women in the control group reported having been raped in the past year and 9.3 percent reported being the survivors of attempted rape. Of the women who attended the 12 hours of intensive training, only 5.2 percent reported having been raped since their training and 3.4 percent reported attempted rape. These results encourage the education of women on sexual violence to reduce the prevalence of rape and sexual assault.
Though any knowledge on ways to reduce sexual violence is beneficial, this could indirectly place the responsibility for preventing rape on potential victims, which can lead to victim-blaming if assault occurs. Kathleen C. Basile, an epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), explains that the “primary weakness [of this study] is that it places the onus for prevention on potential victims, possibly obscuring the responsibility of perpetrators and others.” However, Senn states that empowering women with tools that have proven to reduce their risk of being sexually victimized is essential.
Recent federal legislation, the 2013 Campus Sexual Violence Elimination (SaVE) Act, calls for transparency, accountability, education and collaboration among colleges and universities nationwide with regard to any form of sexual violence, including rape, intimate partner violence and stalking. The SaVE Act adds to the existing Title IX Guidance enforced by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. Despite these laws, educational institutions continue to dally when it comes to cases of sexual violence on campus. For instance, Columbia University’s mishandling of the case against Emma Sulkowicz’s rapist led to the development of her performance piece, “Mattress Performance: Carry That Weight,” which the media used to spotlight the issue of sexual violence on college campuses this past year. The piece, which was her senior thesis project, consisted of Sulkowicz carrying a standard dorm mattress with her on campus every day to represent the dorm bed on which she was raped and the fact that her perpetrator was not given any form of punishment after being reported. Sulkowicz concluded the performance piece at her graduation from the university this past spring.
Meanwhile, legislators are trying to pass laws in 10 states allowing for individuals to carry concealed weapons on college campuses as a method of self-defense in an effort to reduce rates of sexual violence. As Clay Risen, editor of the New York Times, explains, “…letting women carry guns on campus to deter rape also means letting rapists carry guns.” It could also be argued that this ignores the fact that the majority of rapes on college campuses are perpetrated by an acquaintance. For instance, the 2000 National Institute of Justice study mentioned above found that nine out of 10 college women who were survivors of rape and/or sexual assault knew their perpetrators.
Though a majority of the studies conducted on the topic of sexual violence pertain only to women, sexual violence affects both men and women. In a recent study by the CDC that surveyed 5,000 students in over 130 educational institutions nationwide, approximately one in 25 males reported having been the victim of rape in his lifetime. Awareness surrounding sexual violence of women has been championed in the past couple of decades but the reality of male victims of rape and sexual assault is rarely discussed. As psychologist Clayton Bullock explains, “It is possible for men to get aroused… when being assaulted. What’s particularly bewildering for the males is that if they…were aroused during the assault, it adds a layer of shame or confusion in their culpability of their own victimization.” While the same can apply to women, Bullock notes that this is one of the many reasons male victims of sexual violence are hesitant to speak out.
If you or a loved one is struggling with PTSD or any mental health disorder resulting from sexual violence, help is available. Sovereign Health Rancho San Diego is a facility that specializes in treating adolescents and teenagers struggling with mental health issues, substance abuse and dual diagnosis. Call 866-615-7266 to speak with a professional today.
Written by Courtney Howard, Sovereign Health Group writer