Sexual assault incidents among college undergraduates: Prevalence and factors associated with risk

Claude A. Mellins, Kate Walsh, Aaron L. Sarvet, Melanie Wall, Louisa Gilbert, John S. Santelli, Martie Thompson, Patrick A. Wilson, Shamus Khan, Stephanie Benson, Karimata Bah, Kathy A. Kaufman, Leigh Reardon, Jennifer S. Hirsch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

101 Scopus citations

Abstract

Sexual assault on college campuses is a public health issue. However varying research methodologies (e.g., different sexual assault definitions, measures, assessment timeframes) and low response rates hamper efforts to define the scope of the problem. To illuminate the complexity of campus sexual assault, we collected survey data from a large population-based random sample of undergraduate students from Columbia University and Barnard College in New York City, using evidence based methods to maximize response rates and sample representativeness, and behaviorally specific measures of sexual assault to accurately capture victimization rates. This paper focuses on student experiences of different types of sexual assault victimization, as well as sociodemographic, social, and risk environment correlates. Descriptive statistics, chi-square tests, and logistic regression were used to estimate prevalences and test associations. Since college entry, 22% of students reported experiencing at least one incident of sexual assault (defined as sexualized touching, attempted penetration [oral, anal, vaginal, other], or completed penetration). Women and gender nonconforming students reported the highest rates (28% and 38%, respectively), although men also reported sexual assault (12.5%). Across types of assault and gender groups, incapacitation due to alcohol and drug use and/or other factors was the perpetration method reported most frequently (> 50%); physical force (particularly for completed penetration in women) and verbal coercion were also commonly reported. Factors associated with increased risk for sexual assault included non-heterosexual identity, difficulty paying for basic necessities, fraternity/sorority membership, participation in more casual sexual encounters (“hook ups”) vs. exclusive/monogamous or no sexual relationships, binge drinking, and experiencing sexual assault before college. High rates of re-victimization during college were reported across gender groups. Our study is consistent with prevalence findings previously reported. Variation in types of assault and methods of perpetration experienced across gender groups highlight the need to develop prevention strategies tailored to specific risk groups.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0186471
JournalPloS one
Volume12
Issue number11
DOIs
StatePublished - Nov 2017
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General

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