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Rape and Sexual Assault

Rape and other sexual assault on campus is a complicated problem without an easy solution. However, campus and community constituencies can work together to create long-standing, comprehensive programs to prevent and mitigate campus sexual assault.

The National College Women Sexual Victimization (NCWSV) study (.pdf file requiring Adobe Acrobat), a 1996 survey of 4,446 women sponsored by the U.S. Department of Justice, defines rape as:

Forced sexual intercourse including both psychological coercion as well as physical force. Forced sexual intercourse means vaginal, anal, or oral penetration by the offender(s). This category also includes incidents where the penetration is from a foreign object such as a bottle. Includes attempted rapes, male as well as female victims, and both heterosexual and homosexual rape. Attempted rape includes verbal threats of rape.

Acquaintance rape is the most common violent crime on U.S. campuses, with victims stating they know the perpetrator of the assault in 90 percent of the cases. The NCWSV found that 1.7 percent of college women had experienced a completed rape and 1.1 percent an attempted rape in the seven months prior to the study. The survey’s authors, by projecting these figures over an entire calendar year, concluded that nearly 5 percent of college women may be victimized annually with up to 25 percent possibly assaulted by the end of their college years.

The violence prevention program at the U.S. Department of Education’s Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Other Drug and Violence Prevention provides recommendations to help campuses to foster multiple, coordinated efforts to prevent sexual violence. Responding to assaults and providing services to victims are just two ways in which campuses can address sexual assault. Administrators also can implement a comprehensive approach to preventing violence by reducing the factors on campus that contribute to violence. Specific examples of this overarching prevention approach include:

  • Dispelling unhealthy beliefs and attitudes through multi-session, gender-specific education programs that provide accurate information, support healthy norms, teach skills, and encourage students to develop healthy behavioral intentions.
  • Developing and enforcing policies against aggressive and violent behaviors. The Higher Education Center recommends that these policies should comply with applicable federal, state, and local laws and regulations, including Title IX and the Clery Act. Students, parents, and staff should be made aware of the policies, and should understand how to file a complaint about such behaviors. Administrators can also ensure that those who enforce the policies are adequately trained to do so.
  • Helping to reduce students’ vulnerability to sexual victimization by strangers through providing a safer physical environment (installing lighting, surveillance cameras, and emergency call boxes; increasing security patrols), creating escort services, and providing self-defense classes.
  • Integrating alcohol and other drug (AOD) prevention with sexual assault prevention programs. While alcohol and other drugs do not cause or in any way justify violence, they are often present during assaults. For more information on the complex relationship between AOD and sexual violence, please visit the Alcohol, Other Drugs, and Sexual Assault on Campus page of this Web site.

Alcohol, Other Drugs, and Sexual Assault on Campus

While alcohol and other drugs do not cause or excuse sexual assault, they are often present in assaults on campus.


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