When a student from the University of Minnesota, or even a stranger, is sexually assaulted, they face tremendous shame and self-loathing, according to a study published Tuesday in the journal Psychology of Women Quarterly.
But those feelings are amplified when they go public with the incident.
“When we have to publicly report a sexual assault, we have the responsibility to be there for the survivors,” said lead author Jennifer Eberhardt, a senior lecturer in the Department of Psychology at the University at Buffalo.
“We have the obligation to educate the public, to let them know how to navigate the process, and that is a real privilege.”
Eberhardt and her co-author, psychologist Karen Loeffler, conducted the research with researchers at the College of William and Mary.
In the study, researchers examined how students in the U.S. who experienced sexual assault reported it in the first 24 hours after it happened.
The data showed that about 40 percent of the students reported their experiences in the second or third week after they reported.
The next most common time students reported they experienced the assault was at the start of the semester, but that percentage increased to 75 percent the next time they reported it.
In the case of sexual assault cases, the majority of victims experienced emotional distress and fear of the event.
About two-thirds of the victims who reported they had been sexually assaulted in the two weeks following the assault reported a degree of sexual violence.
Nearly half of the sexual assault survivors said they were fearful about reporting the incident to the police or university authorities, the report said.
Eberhart and Loeffer conducted their research using a large data set of online surveys and interviews with more than 20,000 college students, asking them questions about the impact of sexual assaults on their lives, their experiences with sexual assault in their community and their experiences of their campus community.
The research also looked at a broader range of topics, including whether sexual assault has a stigma and whether students and students of color are more likely to be victims of sexual harassment.
The researchers found that college students were more likely than students of other races, ages or genders to report having experienced sexual harassment, sexual assault or assault of a stranger in their campus.
The study found that students of a certain age group and women were less likely than men to report sexual assault at a university, although they were more than twice as likely to report it at a graduate or professional school.
About 30 percent of men reported experiencing sexual assault on campus, compared to 9 percent of women.
Women are also more likely in the general population to be assaulted by a friend or acquaintance than are men, the study found.
That may be because men and women are more easily vulnerable to sexual harassment and assault.
“If we do not know whether these experiences are shared by a majority of women, then we are unlikely to know whether they are experienced by a minority of women,” Eberhart said.
The survey also found that most students had experienced sexual violence at a college or university before, but were less than happy with the way things were then.
They were also more satisfied with their college experience than they were with their lives at home.
“It’s very clear that a college student is more likely that a person at home to be a victim of sexual abuse,” EBERHARDT said.
“There is a greater likelihood that a student is not a victim at a school and may be at a higher risk of sexual victimization in their college life than a person who is not at home.”
In the future, Eberhard said, the next step would be to study whether the college environment can better support survivors.
The authors said they are exploring how college environments could address sexual violence survivors’ concerns.
They are also working on ways to help schools prevent sexual assault and harassment, as well as prevent violence against women.