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The incidence of rape on university campuses

Dr. Jennifer Freyd, a Clinical Psychologist at the University of Oregon, spoke about the incidence of rape on university campuses at a trauma conference that I attended in California. She stated that approximately 20% of female university students will be vaginally raped on an American campus while completing a four-year degree. This number is supported by a press release that was issued by the White House in 2014.

Dr. Freyd shared that the incidence of rape increases to about 40% of female university students if the women are members of “The Greek System,” meaning a sorority. She said an additional 40% of gay male students will be raped on campuses while completing a four-year degree.

The term “sexual assault” is used by the legal system to describe rape.

Title IX, an American civil rights statute, was created in 1972 to prevent sexual discrimination in education. Specifically, it was enacted to allow women access to schools that until then had refused them admittance.

Title IX states that women are entitled to equal access to educational opportunities in the United States. It requires that women not be sexually harassed on campuses because “this creates a hostile environment” that interferes with a woman’s right to attend an institution.

Title IX requires schools to prevent and address campus sexual assaults. They are required to “prevent, respond to, and resolve matters” that involve “sexual misconduct.”

So what went wrong? Why are female (and male) students still being raped on campuses more than 40 years after Title IX came into effect? Why are so many students still being sexually assaulted on American campuses?

In a heartening move, President Barak Obama has made it a mandate to address the problem of sexual assaults within the educational system. He declared, “It is time Americans stopped sending their children off to universities only to see them be harmed.”

At the California conference I attended, Dr. Jennifer Freyd said that Obama’s mandate gave her the official green light to start investigating the issue of sexual assault on campus as a research topic. She said the political situation has never existed before that would allow her to look into the problem. She said universities wouldn’t permit her to shine a spot light on the problem.

A movie called “The Hunting Ground,” released in 2015, is about sexual assault on campuses. This movie has played an important role in legislators in 29 states introducing bills to address sexual assault on campuses.

On a related note, acclaimed author Jon Krakauer released an American National best-selling book in 2015 called “Missoula.” It tells the story of a number of sexual assaults that happened at the University of Montana and the aftermath that followed.

Krakauer’s non-fiction book illustrates the dramatic problem of sexual assault on campuses, and, more specifically, the lack of appropriate responses that women have received when they have reported these crimes to authorities, both on and off campus, and have attempted to have their attackers appropriately prosecuted.

The book tells the story of a number of women who reported they were sexually assaulted in Missoula, and how the local authorities attempted to silence the women and cover up the crimes.

I should share that this book is difficult to read if you are going to pick up a copy. I anticipate that a lot of copies have been left unfinished because the content is difficult to digest. The book is worth reading, but please give yourself permission to put it down if you find yourself triggered by the content.

As I write this blog post, I am standing in Calgary, Alberta. The statistics and stories contained in this post pertain to the United States, but I don’t want you to think this is only an American problem. You don’t have to look any further than recent events at the University of British Columbia to recognize that a parallel problem is happening in Canada.

So what can you do? If you are a university student, you can educate yourself about the problem. Learn what constitutes sexual assault.

If you are the parent of a student heading off to university or currently on campus, educate yourself and then your child. There’s a lot at stake here. The statistics show it. The chance is significant that a student you care about that is on a university campus will be raped before they graduate with their degree.

Dr. Patricia Turner, PhD, Registered Psychologist, Calgary, Alberta

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