Campus crime in general, and gender-based violence in particular, attracted considerable attention during the 1990s. This attention has continued into the 21st century. One of the highest-profile crimes involved the on-campus rape and murder of Jeanne Clery, a1 9-year-old freshman who was killed in her dormitory at Lehigh University in 1986. Following Clery’s murder, public persistence along with leadership by the Clery family demanded action on a national level. The federal response included several laws initially formulated in 1990 as the Student Right-to-Know Campus Security Act. The 1990 act was amended first in 1992 and again in 1998, and was renamed the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act. Subsequent amendments in 2000 and 2008 added provisions for registered sex offender notification and campus emergency response. Moreover, in 1999, the Department of Justice awarded $8.1 million to 21 campuses to combat sexual assault, domestic violence, and stalking.
Colleges and universities are supposed to be safe places for personal and social growth and maturation, but violence on college campuses is commonplace. Sexual assault is a crime primarily against women and youth, and its occurrence on college campuses is not declining; crimes such as rape, assault, sexual harassment, stalking, and even murder are prevalent at such sites. Like domestic violence, gender violence that occurs on college campuses is largely hidden and often overlooked; thus these crimes are allowed to occur in secrecy and go under-reported, under-prosecuted, and under-punished.
According to the National Crime Survey, prior to 1987 sexually violent crimes, such as sexual assault, were infrequent and the rarest of violent offenses. Several studies have since identified the prevalence of gender crimes on college campuses–for example, the Department of Justice estimated that a woman has between one in four and one in five chance of being raped during her college years. The U.S. House of Representatives survey from 1987 discovered that 38% of college women had either been raped or were victims of felony sexual assaults. Ten years later, the National Sexual Victimization of College WomenSurvey(publishedin2000) involving 4,446 women attending two-or four-year colleges reported victimization rates of 35.3 per 1,000 among college women in 1996-1997; of these assaults, 12.8% were completed rapes, 35% were attempted rapes, and 22.9% were threatened date rapes. Thus a college with 10,000 female students could expect to see more than 350 rapes per academic year–a finding with serious policy implications for college administrators.
Although much national attention has focused on the use of drugs to facilitate a rape, alcohol continues to play a crucial role in many college crimes. Several studies have linked excessive alcohol consumption with sexual assault: Fisher et al. (2000) discovered that from half to three-fourths of sexual assaults on college campuses involved alcohol consumption by the victim, the perpetrator, or both. Abbey et al. (1996) reported that more than half of 1,600 women had experienced some form of sexual assault; of these assaults, 95% involved alcohol consumption by the man, the woman, or both. Koss and Dinero (1989) and Miller and Marshall (1987) noted similar findings in both of their studies. Miller and Marshall found that 60% of women who engaged in sexual intercourse had been using alcohol or other drugs, while Koss and Dinero listed alcohol use as one of four primary predictors associated with college women’s chances of being raped. In interviews conducted by Kanin (1985), more than half of college date rapists felt their status would have been enhanced if they forced sex on the woman they drank with, while three-fourths reported getting a date high to have sex with her. Mailman, Riggs, and Turco’s 1990 survey of campus males and females about unwanted sexual experiences revealed that 3.2% of females were victims of unwanted attempted intercourse, and 11.5% experienced unwanted completed intercourse during their college years; for both men and women who reported attempted unwanted sexual experiences, more than half admitted alcohol was a factor. Furthermore, alcohol use was cited by the perpetrators in 55% of the sexual assault incidents and by women in 39% of unwanted sexual encounters. Moreover, 60% of college women who acquired sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS, had been drinking at the time of their infection.
Other empirical studies suggest a strong association between alcohol consumption and sexual aggression on campus. A 1987 study of 635 college men and women that explored sexual aggression in dating discovered that 77.6% of women experienced sexual aggression and 14% unwanted intercourse; in comparison, 57.3% of men reported involvement in sexual aggression, and 7.1% reported unwanted sexual intercourse. Muehlenhard and Linton’s 1987 study reported similar findings, including heavy alcohol use as a major factor for both sexual aggression and rape. In this research, among men who acknowledged committing sexual assaults on dates, 55% reported being intoxicated at the time while 29% were mildly high.
Dating violence is comprised of controlling, abusive, and aggressive behavior, and can include verbal, emotionel, physical, or sexual abuse, or a combination of these forms. According to Schwartz et al. (2006), dating violence is a major problem on college campuses that requires preventive interventions. Research studies have continued linked dating with gender violence: Edward H. Thompson found one in three college students has experienced or been an initiator of violence in a dating relationship in his 1991 research; Kerry E. Hannan and Barry Burkhart reported in 1993 that 25% of college men surveyed admitted to slapping, pushing, or restraining a female partner; the National Center for Victims of Crime revealed in 2006 that 32% of college students reported dating violence by a previous partner and 21% by a current partner; and Schwartz et al. discovered in 2006 that more than one-fifth of the undergraduate dating population was physically abused by their dating partners. Koss’s 1985 survey about date rape at 32 colleges discovered that most of the rapes occurred on campus, and 84% of women knew their assailants before the attack. However, only 27% of victims knew that their sexual assault fell within the legal definition of rape; 16% thought what happened to them was a crime; 11% did not think a crime was committed; and a disturbing 46% believed they were victims of serious miscommunication. Additionally, one in 12 men admitted committing acts that met the legal definition of rape or attempted rape.
Sexual violence has a serious negative impact on the academic performance of the collegiate victim. For example, when sexual crimes occur, victims may drop out of school or at least stop attending for an extended period of time. In a study by Frintner and Rubinson in 1993, 37.1% of the women who experienced sexual assault reported a decrease in grade-point average after the incident. Ten other women reduced their course load, while three others suspended their studies.
According to the American College Health Association, stalking is also a concern within college communities. Stalking is the willful, repeated, and malicious following, harassing, or threatening of another person. Elizabeth Musatine and Richard Tewsbury’s 1999 study of women attending nine institutions of higher education reported that 10% of female students said they had been stalked in the previous six months. According to Fisher et al. (2000), the most common forms of stalking behaviors reported by victims were being telephoned (77.7 %), the offender waiting outside or inside (47.9%), being watched from afar (44 %), being followed (42 %), being sent letters (30.7 %), and being emailed (24.7 %). Almost two-thirds of the sample admitted being stalked at least two to six times per week, while 13.1% reported having been stalked since the school year began. Victims also stated that the stalker either threatened or attempted to harm them in 15.3% of the incidents; in 10.3% of the incidents, the stalker forced or attempted sexual contact. The researchers noted that many women do not characterize their victimizations as a crime for several reasons: they are embarrassed; they do not understand the legal definition of rape; they are unwilling to accuse someone they know of being a rapist; or they blame themselves. Furthermore, many college administrators simply ignore the relatively high prevalence of stalking on their campuses.
Women have experienced violence throughout the history of higher education, but the murder of Annie Le in September 2009 at Yale University served as a recent reminder of how violent some institutions of higher education have become. Several other women have been murdered on campuses nationwide in the last few years as well: Katherine Rosen was stabbed to death at the University of California in Los Angeles (2009); a female student was killed at Northern Illinois University (2008); a 22-year-old female was murdered at Eastern Michigan University (December 2006); a second-year female student at the University of California at Berkeley was raped and murdered (2004); Susannah Chase was beaten and left to die in December 1997 at the University of Colorado in Boulder–and the list goes on.
While gender-based violence is endemic on college campuses, college administrators typically do not respond to sexual crimes, thus distorting crime statistics. These startling statistics of gender violence on campuses should serve as a wake-up call for higher education administrators. The unremitting prevalence of sexual assault against college women indicates a need for careful reflection by institutions of higher education regarding their policies related to deterrence of sexual violence on campus. Recognizing that a problem exists is the first step toward solving gender violence in higher education institutions. Examining institutional policies that are designed to protect college students from crimes may then lead to improved effectiveness in combating campus violence. Additionally, campus policies against sexual assault must be enforced and reflect a zero-tolerance response toward sexual assault against women. Moreover, campus-wide efforts to fight violence should target the entire academic community. It is important that women on campus become aware of violent crimes, take precautionary measures to prevent assaults, learn how to characterize their victimizations by understanding the legal definitions of sexual crimes, and learn the procedures to follow in such cases. Finally, efforts must be directed toward making sure that the response to, and prevention of, sexual assault is victim-centered.
- Abbey, A., Ross, L., Ross, D., & McAuslan, P. (1996). Alcohol and dating risk factors for sexual assault among women. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 20, 147-169.
- Fisher, B., Cullen, F., & Turner, M. (2000). The sexual victimization of college women. National Criminal Justice Resource Center. Retrieved January 21, 2010, from http://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/182369.pdf
- Koss, M., & Dinero, T. (1989). Discriminant of risk factors for sexual victimization among a national sample of college women. Journal ofCounseling and Clinical Psychology, 57(2), 242-250.
- Koss, M., Gidycz C., & Wisnicwski, N. (1987). The scope of rape: Incidence and prevalence of sexual aggression and victimization in a national sample of higher education students. Journal ofCounseling Clinical Psychology, 55, 162-170.
- Muehlenhard, C., & Linton, M. (1987). Date rape and sexual aggression in dating situations: Incidence and risk factors. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 34, 186-196.
- Pezza, P., & Bellotti, A. (1995). The nature of the problem and its frequency. Educational Psychology Review, 7(1), 93-102.
- Schwartz, J., Griffin, L., Russell, M., & Frontaura-Du, S. (2006, Spring). Prevention of dating violence on college campuses: An innovative program. Journal of College Counseling, 9(1), 90-96.