Contribution by Jessie Richards, PhD
Asst. Professor, Management Dept., University of Utah
FADV Founder & Advisory Director
In the fall, college campuses are buzzing with energy. Students are excited to be back on campus (especially after several strange COVID semesters), football season is in full swing (along with swimming, basketball, diving, and volleyball), and dating/relationship violence season is… well… elevated.
Women and female-identifying students between the ages of 18-24 experience the highest rates of sexual violence in the United States. And the fall months (the first four months of a college semester) are when the highest rates of sexual assault occur. We even have a name for this time period: The Red Zone.
Approximately 23% of transgender, genderqueer, and nonconforming (TGQN) college students report having been sexually assaulted. Men and male-identify students are five times as likely to experience sexual assault as their non-college attending peers.
Dating violence and sexual assault are also among the highest unreported types of crime, meaning even the most up-to-date statistics we have about rates of violence is severely under representative of actual rates of violence. Plus, students of color, LGBTQ students, and undocumented students are far less likely to report assault but are also far more likely to be assaulted.
I’ve been teaching and researching at the university level for almost 17 years. So much has changed on college campuses, in the time I’ve been part of the community. We have significantly diversified the student body and built support networks for all types of traditional and non-traditional students. We’ve made enormous strides to increase campus safety. However, the rates of harm perpetrated against college-aged women and TGQN students have remained roughly the same over the past 20 years.
Campuses have increased and strengthened reporting structures through Title IX offices, and we have increased support for survivors through resource centers and victim advocates. What we have not done as successfully, it seems, is effectively curb this violence before it starts. But we have data on what this epidemic of violence looks like:
90% of survivors are assaulted by someone they know. 80% of survivors intimately orsuperficially know the person who stalks them. Thus, it seems, the epidemic of sexual assaultand violence is less of a “strange danger” lurking in the bushes at night and more about issues of consent, coercion, boundaries, entitlement, respect, and upstream prevention.
Yet, many campus awareness efforts focus mainly on nighttime campus security (increased lighting, police presence, and/or campus escorts) and victim-blaming prevention strategies that encourage women to “walk in groups” or to avoid drinks they didn’t see poured in front of them. While there is a place for these important strategies, focusing primarily on these tactics falsely perpetuates myths about rates of perpetration and who perpetrators are.
This blog post is part of a series about dating, relationships, and rates of violence in college-aged women and female-identifying students. Over the next few posts, this blog will explore prevention practices and barriers to prevention efforts.