Who self-reports sexual assault?

In response to rising reports of sexual assault on America’s college campuses, President Obama established the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault. The president’s January 2014 push to curb sexual violence brought the issue back into the public eye as universities and government institutions wrestled with how to prevent and effectively respond to sexual assault. Legislation is pending (in late summer 2014) that would mandate American colleges and universities to both collect and report sexual assault data from their students. The matter is a serious one.

Figure 15.1Percent physically forced to have sex, by gender

Tragically, sexual assault is not rare. In the Relationships in America survey data, one in five women as well as one of every twenty men report having ever been physically forced to engage in some sort of sexual activity. Women from all walks of life are affected: white, black, and Latino women report statistically indistinguishable rates of forced sex, as do women living in urban and rural communities.

IT APPEARS THAT COLLEGE CAMPUSES ARE NO MORE DANGEROUS FOR WOMEN THAN NOT GOING TO COLLEGE.

While the administration’s new task force focuses on America’s college students, women who have graduated with a bachelor’s degree are actually less likely to have been victims of forced sexual activity than their less-educated peers. Sexual violence and its emotional aftermath may derail some women from earning a college degree, which may explain in part the higher rates of sexual assault among those who have finished “some college” education compared to women who have completed their bachelor’s degrees, but it appears that college campuses are no more dangerous for women than not going to college (see Figure 15.2).

Figure 15.2Percent physically forced to have sex, by educational attainment

Men who do not complete high school are at especially high risk for sexual violence when compared with other men, perhaps an artifact of their higher than average incarceration rates, and the prevalence of sexual assault in prison populations.55

Victims of sexual assault face a host of difficulties. Among their hardships, victims are much more likely than non-victims to be on depression or anxiety medication (27 percent vs. 11 percent), to report being in counseling or therapy (14 percent vs. 5 percent), to report lower levels of (current) relationship happiness, and are more likely to be unhappy with life in general (20 percent vs. 10 percent). While sexual assault is difficult for anyone to recover from, those with lower levels of education show markedly worse outcomes in terms of depression and life satisfaction, and are more likely to have never had counseling or therapy than victims with a bachelor’s degree (results not shown).

ADDRESSING SEXUAL ASSAULT ON COLLEGE CAMPUSES IS A GOOD PLACE TO START, BUT IF OUR NATION IS TO BE FREE FROM VIOLENCE AND SEXUAL ABUSE, EFFORTS TO PREVENT SEXUAL VIOLENCE MUST EXTEND FURTHER THAN INSTITUTIONS OF HIGHER EDUCATION.

Our analysis reveals that sexual assault is a problem for women in all walks of life, of all races, all education levels, and in urban or rural areas. Addressing sexual assault on college campuses is a good place to start, but if our nation is to be free from violence and sexual abuse, efforts to prevent sexual violence must extend further than institutions of higher education.


55 Sum, Andrew et al. “The Consequences of Dropping out of High School.” Northeastern University Center for Labor Market Studies. October, 2009.

Next: Who’s more interested in marrying—men or women?
Click to Navigate
Religion
Relationships and Sex
Marriage and Divorce
Family Attitudes
About the Report
Contact Us

Questions, media inquiries, and comments should be directed to our research team. They can be reached by email at research@austin-institute.org. If you find this information interesting and helpful, we also invite you to visit our website, like us on Facebook, or share stories on social media.