Conversations Before College: Preventing Sexual Assault


Conversations Before College

Conversations Before College: Preventing Sexual AssaultThis is the third installment of my “Conversations Before College” series, written in honor of my daughter and her friends who graduate from high school this Sunday. My hope is that this information will spur parents to have these important conversations with their high school and college-aged kids.

“It is estimated that the percentage of completed or attempted rape victimization among women in higher educational institutions may be between 20% and 25% over the course of a college career.”
Fisher, B.S., Cullen, F.T., & Turner, M.G. (2000). The Sexual Victimization of College Women. National Institute of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics.

“A study by the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics estimated that 6.1 incidents of sexual assault per 1000 female students (0.61%) occur annually in the US, while other studies have estimated that roughly 19-27% of college women and 6-8% of college men are sexually assaulted during their time in college.” Wikipedia

The exact statistics are not clear, because this is not a topic colleges want to advertise in their glossy marketing materials, information sessions, and tours. The number of rapes reported by universities often differs from what students at the schools report, and except in unique situations (like when a sports team is involved), these assaults do not get any media attention.

Many rapes go unreported due to shame, embarrassment, and not being clear on what constitutes sexual assault. What is clear is that students, especially women, are at a higher risk of being sexually assaulted while in college than at any other time in their lives. The assaults are not from strangers in dark alleys but are more often perpetrated by men in their social circle. A variety of cultural factors, including rampant binge drinking, has contributed to this crisis, and it is something Vice President Joe Biden has addressed.

Regardless of what the “real” statistics are, I don’t want my daughter or her friends to be victims of sexual assault. I anxiously await the publication of Kathleen Buckstaff’s Get Savvy, in which she shares her own story of assault as well as advice about what young women can do to protect themselves. In the meantime, I’m going to have candid discussions with my daughter about the assaults occurring on every college campus (and off campus) and how she can protect herself and her friends.

Here’s what I want my daughter and her friends to know:

  • They are most at risk during their first three months of college, when a high proportion of rapes occur.

“Be a good friend. Trust your instincts. If you notice something that doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. Learn more about how to keep your friends safe in social settings.”

  • Before you head out to any college parties, make sure you have at least one good friend who will choose you and your safety over staying at a fun party. Agree that if either of you ever feel uncomfortable, you will leave together.
  • Risky situations almost always include alcohol and/or other drugs. Be wise.
  • According to Buckstaff’s research, a small percentage of men (6%) perpetrate these assaults, but these men are adept at finding good targets – often drunk women who don’t have a friend looking out for them.
  • If you are the victim of assault, which is any unwanted, non-consensual sexual encounter, have a friend take you to the hospital (not the school health center) and file a police report.

Sexual assault has a lifelong, negative impact on emotional and mental health and is something that needs to be addressed. We need to educate our sons and daughters in steps they can take to help prevent sexual assault from being part of their college experience.

I’ve collected a variety of resources (below) to review and share with the young people in your life.

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Staying Safe on Campus
Curbing Sexual Assault Becomes Big Business on Campus, NPR
Charlene Senn’s College Rape Prevention Program
Campus Crime Statistics
Athletes and Sexual Assault

Get Savvy: Letters to a Teenage Girl about Sex and Love is a “must read” for all high school and college girls and their parents. I interviewed author Kathleen Buckstaff in Episode 12 of my podcast.

My daughter has seen The Hunting Ground, but I’m going to watch it with her so we can talk about it:
The Hunting Ground: The Inside Story of Sexual Assaults on College Campuses  (Book)
Rent The Hunting Ground on Amazon Prime.

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