• Miranda L. Galbreath, MA, MA, LPC

Just because you don't know about it, doesn't mean it's not happening: Campus IPV and SV

I was contacted recently by the Student Affairs office of a local college. They had a student who had been removed from campus due to behaviors that violated Title IX, and they needed to refer the student to a local treatment provider who could evaluate and work with him on the behaviors involved in the violation.

The Student Affairs office staff advised that they had no idea where to find resources specific to providing treatment for folks who had committed intimate partner violence and/or sexual violence.* It seems the individual therapist that this student was seeing off campus ALSO did not know where to find such services. Further, the Student Affairs office staff stated that “cases are rare” at the campus, and that they had not had to seek out a treatment provider for a student who had violated Title IX and wanted to return to campus in eight years.

According to the Department of Education’s Title IX website, Title IX was enacted to ensure: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” Title IX recognizes sexual harassment as discrimination, and the regulation defines sexual harassment to include dating violence, domestic violence, and stalking.”

It struck me as quite worrisome that both a college Student Affairs office AND a local mental health provider who serves college students had no idea how to find resources or treatment services for students who have committed intimate partner and/or sexual violence. I got the sense that the college staff truly believed that IPV and SV were “rare” on campus, or was at the very least not particularly aware of how big an issue they are among college-aged youth. I can only guess that the mental health provider who was treating the college student must have thought so as well, as they didn’t think being familiar with treatment resources to serve folks who have committed IPV or SV was particularly important.

If you are working with college students or college-aged youth, the message I want you to get from this post is: Just because you don’t know about it doesn’t mean it’s not affecting the youth you serve. It’s definitely happening. It’s happening at higher levels than you think. And these youth NEED you to know that it’s happening, and need you to create safe spaces where they can receive support from knowledgeable folks who can get them the resources they need; whether they are survivors of abuse, or whether they are committing the abuse.

If you are just now recognizing there is a deficit in your knowledge in this area in regards to college students and relationship violence, I’ll give you what you need to get started on filling in those knowledge gaps! What follows are some brief statistics, as well as links to helpful books and websites to get your knowledge up to speed, so you can work to help our students and youth create spaces of sexual and relationship safety.

According to RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network):

Sexual violence on campus is pervasive.

  • 13% of all students experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence, or incapacitation (among all graduate and undergraduate students).

  • Among graduate and professional students, 9.7% of females and 2.5% of males experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence, or incapacitation.

  • Among undergraduate students, 26.4% of females and 6.8% of males experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence, or incapacitation.

  • 5.8% of students have experienced stalking since entering college.

  • Male college-aged students (18-24) are 78% more likely than non-students of the same age to be a victim of rape or sexual assault.

  • Female college-aged students (18-24) are 20% less likely than non-students of the same age to be a victim of rape or sexual assault.

  • 23.1% of TGQN (transgender, genderqueer, nonconforming) college students have been sexually assaulted.

RAINN indicates that rates of reporting to law enforcement are low, for reasons that include: believing the abuse was a personal matter, fearing reprisal, believing the abuse was not important enough to report, not wanting to get the abuser in trouble, and believing that the police would not or could not help them.

I encourage you to visit RAINN’s page on Campus Sexual Violence for even more detailed information.

Another great source of information is the NCADV (National Coalition Against Domestic Violence). Their fact sheet on Teen, Campus, and Dating Violence indicates that 43% of dating college women described experiencing intimate partner violence. A 2013 study found that 57% of teens know someone who has experienced intimate partner violence, and 26% of teens reported some form of online abuse in their dating relationships. Only 33% of these students ever told anyone about the abuse. These studies also indicate that 50% of student who reported dating violence and rape also reported attempting suicide.

I’ve also read a few great books lately that focus specifically on issues of sexual and dating violence in teens and/or college students. Peggy Orenstein’s book, Boys & Sex, was written based on the author’s interviews with young men and a wide range of experts on topics such as “hookups, love, porn, consent, and navigating the new masculinity.” Her book, Girls & Sex, also based on interviews with young women and experts, addresses the ways girls and young women are navigating the sexual part of their lives in our current culture.

Sexual Citizens, by Jennifer S. Hirsch and Shamus Khan, released in 2020, presents the results of ethnographic research into sexual behavior and sexual victimization on Columbia University’s Campus.

If you serve a college student or college-aged population, I encouraging you to start filling in those gaps in your knowledge so you can help our youth create a culture of sexual and relationship safety and wellness for themselves and their peers.

*I do want to say in regards to the Student Affairs office, they were not totally at a loss. When they recognized they didn’t know who to refer this student to, they contacted the Crime Victim Center of Erie, who referred them to me, a person who works with folks who are convicted of committing sexual offenses.

This speaks to a significant imbalance in our knowledge about how to respond to sexual and intimate partner violence that is bigger than just this one college campus Student Affairs office. Faced with a similar situation, the average treatment provider or agency would likely similarly struggle to identify resources to support those who have victimized. Stay tuned for a future blog post that will discuss an upcoming virtual training I am developing on that issue!

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