By Jess Glassman, AWARE® Intern
Though sexual assault can happen anywhere and to anyone of any age, it’s no surprise that it’s an especially pressing issue on college campuses in the U.S. Research further shows that college-age women (18-24) are at the highest risk of sexual violence.1 Approximately 1 in 6 women and 4% of men experience some form of sexual assault while in college, with the risk of assault being highest during their first few months on campus.2 The rate of victimization is even higher among transgender, genderqueer, and non-binary college students with 21% being sexually assaulted.3
As staggering as these statistics are, the reality on campus may be even worse. It is difficult to accurately collect estimates of occurrences of sexual assault because many victims are hesitant to report. For example, only 20% of female student victims reported their assault to law enforcement.4 Reporting sexual assault can be difficult for many victims for a variety of reasons, so if someone you know discloses to you, it’s important to respond appropriately and refer them to additional support.According to the National Sexual Assault Hotline, here are some important ways to support someone who discloses to you that they’ve been sexually assaulted.
- Believe them: It can be scary to reveal and talk about an experience of sexual assault. It is important that the victim feels heard and that their feelings of fear, isolation or sadness are validated.
- Don't blame them: Victims may be quick to blame themselves for the sexual assault they have experienced. It is possible they may feel embarrassed or ashamed of what happened. It is important to acknowledge that what happened is not their fault.
- Avoid judgement: Sexual assault can be a traumatic experience and everyone copes with this differently. If the victim chooses not to report the assault to the police, that is their choice. Everyone copes with trauma in a wide variety of ways. Be patient and give them the time they need to process and heal.
- Remind them that they are not alone and that they are cared for: Experiencing sexual assault can be scary and feel isolating. Assure the victim of your support and care for them. If you want to offer physical support, like a hug, ask them beforehand to ensure they are comfortable.
- Gather resources:
- RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) runs the National Sexual Assault Hotline for victims to call and seek support: 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).
- Look for on campus services at your health or counseling center and offer to accompany the victim to visit those services.
- When looking into resources, it is important to allow the victim to feel in control of the situation. If they are not comfortable reaching out to law enforcement or a professional, do not pressure or force them to. Allow them to make their own decisions in dealing with their experience.
If you or someone you know has experienced sexual assault, call the free and confidential National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).
For more information about supporting a loved one who is a survivor of sexual violence, visit the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape’s A Guide for Friends and Family of Sexual Violence Survivors.
1-4 Campus Sexual Violence: Statistics. RAINN.
2 Campus Climate Survey Validation Study Final Technical Report. Bureau of Justice Statistics Research and Development Series.