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PSYCHOLOGY NEWS BLOG - Special Issue: Sexual Assault on Campus

by Dr. Lynn Margolies

 

Important Findings on Sexual Assault on Campus from the 2015 Harvard Medical School/ Cambridge Health Alliance Conference: “Treating Young Adults,” Boston, MA

Statistics on sexual assault:
• 20% of women between 18-25 years old will be assaulted at college (1 in 5).
• Women are most vulnerable to rape and sexual assault during the first 15 weeks of school.
• Fraternity members are more likely than other men on campus to sexually assault women. There has been an increase in multiperpetrator assaults.
• Sorority members are more vulnerable to being sexually assaulted than other women on campus.
• Most rapes on campus are committed by repeat offenders who “groom” their victims. These rapes are being called: “target rapes” (Rosenfeld, 2015).
• These repeat offenders constitute 7% of the men on campus. Half of these men committed an average of 6 rapes each.

The role of fraternities and how they benefit universities:
• The fraternity culture teaches men a perpetrator mentality via rituals and attitudes that reward seeing women as “hos,” hazing, use of violent porn, and a sense of entitlement as men.
• Fraternities exert a powerful influence on universities because they provide a major source of donations from alumni and function as a form of social media that attracts students (Flanagan, 2014). Further, since fraternity housing is owned by the fraternities, they are separate from the university - reducing the university’s liability and legal responsibility for what goes on there (Jacobs, 2014).

Interesting facts:
• Students are in favor of an affirmative consent standard rather than the default being that women are consenting unless they say, “No”.
• Sex with a woman who is drunk is illegal based on the fact that she is considered unable to consent.
• Fraternities are a million dollar industry with a political arm in Washington (Glovin, 2015).
• Schools across the board have failed to report sexual assault statistics. When some schools conceal these statistics, others are more likely to follow suit or else their school will appear to have an inflated crime rate.
• The Clery Act requires schools to keep a crime log and report these statistics on their website: Please see: http://knowyourix.org/the-clery-act-in-detail/.
• Title IX requires schools to provide equal educational opportunity. It’s relevant to sexual assault because it forces schools to remedy any “hostile” environment created as a result of sexual assault and to prevent such environments in the future. Students who have been assaulted have sued schools under Title IX. Please see: http://knowyourix.org/title-ix/title-ix-the-basics/

Dr. Margolies’ Commentary:
• Survivors of sexual assault suffer from shame and blame themselves more than with other crimes. They often keep what happened to them a secret and/or wait a long time before telling anyone or getting help. These feelings are reinforced by explicit and/or implicit blaming and shaming attitudes of people around them and society in general - often leading to what survivors have referred to as a “second rape,” and delaying recovery.
• It is not uncommon for memory for details of a rape to be unclear or confused as a result of dissociation. This does not constitute evidence of lying. Memories of trauma often emerge in fragments or are re-experienced through flashbacks and nightmares. Given the stigma associated with sexual assault, most women would not want to publicly claim they were raped. Although there are cases of false accusations - approximately 5.9 percent - it is much more common for a woman not to be believed when telling the truth. Further, the symptoms of trauma, which include significant changes in personality and functioning, are difficult to fake. Symptoms of trauma include: fear/terror, shame, withdrawal, depression, flashbacks, amnesia, avoidance, dissociation, insomnia, startle reactions and others.
• Trauma syndromes such as: acute stress reactions and PTSD are common result of sexual assault - often leading students into a downwards spiral of poor grades, isolation, drug use, self-destructive behavior, and having to leave school.
• Women can protect themselves by being aware of these findings, not getting drunk when going to parties - or having a trusted sober friend watch out for them, not drinking from punch bowls or open containers, keeping drinks with them at all times, and thinking through in advance how they plan to get home. These suggestions do not in any way imply that if a woman gets raped while drinking or drunk, it is her fault that she was victimized. Nor do they imply that the solution to the problem is for women to protect themselves better. But just as the solution to robbery is not that people should put locks on their door, it still makes sense to do so.

Helpful resources for survivors and their friends and family:
The White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault was established in 2014 and holds universities accountable to protect students through Title IX and the Clery Act.

1. Not Alone
2. The Clery Act in Detail
3. Title IX: The Basics
4. The documentary film, “The Hunting Ground”

References:

Bidwell, A. (2014, January). White House Task Force Seeks to Tackle College Sexual Assault. Retrieved from http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2014/01/22/white-house-task-force-seeks-to-tackle-college-sexual-assault

Flanagan, C. (2014, March). The Dark Power of Fraternities. Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/features/archive/2014/02/the-dark-power-of-fraternities/357580/

Glovin, D. (2015, March). Fraternities Lobby Against Campus Rape Investigations. Retrieved from http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-03-24/fraternities-lobby-against-campus-rape-investigations

Jacobs, P. (2014, December). Why Fraternities Will Never Disappear From American College Life. Retrieved from http://www.businessinsider.com/why-fraternities-will-never-disappear-from-american-college-life-2014-12

Rosenfeld, Diane (2015, April). An Informed Response to Rape Trauma on Campus. Paper presented at the Treating Young Adults Conference, Boston, MA.

Relevant Article:

Trauma, PTSD

 

To see other similar articles, click on the following links: Psychology News BlogPTSDSexual abuseTraumaWomen

 
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