One third of female students suffer rape or attempted rape by sophomore year

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At one surveyed university in upstate New York, 37% of freshmen women reported being the victims of at least one completed or attempted rape between the age of 14 and the start of their sophomore year, according to a study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

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Overall, 37% of participants reported experiencing at least one rape or attempted rape between the age of 14 and the beginning of their sophomore year.
In the study, rape was defined as “vaginal, oral or anal penetration using threats of violence or use of physical force, or using the tactic of victim incapacitation.” Other types of sexual misconduct – such as unwanted touching or verbal abuse – were not included in this definition of rape.

Standardized surveys were completed by 483 female participants who were considered to be demographically representative of the overall freshmen attending the university during 2010. The questionnaires were completed upon arrival on campus, at the end of the fall semester and after the following summer.

“It’s an important transition year,” says lead and corresponding author Kate Carey, professor of behavioral and social sciences in the Brown University School of Public Health in Providence, RI, of the modern rite of passage that is the freshman year.

“People are usually moving away from home for the first time,” she continues, “they are experimenting with a lot of freedoms including the use of alcohol and other drugs and learning how to live by themselves. We have a better sense after our research of what are the risks within that first transition year.”

Prof. Carey and colleagues found that:

9% of surveyed women reported an attempted or completed forcible rape in the first study year
15.4% reported an attempted or completed rape while incapacitated in the first study year
15.3% of the women disclosed a rape or an attempt of either kind during the fall and spring semesters
Upon arrival on campus, 18% of respondents reported experiencing a rape or attempted rape while incapacitated since the age of 14
15% reported suffering a forcible rape or attempt since age 14
By the beginning of sophomore year, 26% of participants had experienced incapacitated rape and 22% had suffered forcible rape.
Overall, 37% of participants reported experiencing at least one rape or attempted rape between the age of 14 and the beginning of their sophomore year.

Why are women who have previously been raped more at risk?
According to the analysis, women who experienced rape or attempted rape before college were significantly more likely to be raped during freshman year.

Prof. Carey says that the analysis is unable to explain why some women are repeatedly victimized, but the statistical association does suggest that underlying vulnerabilities need to be further researched so that interventions may be effective at helping women at high risk. She adds:

“A substantial number of young women start their college career having already experienced either attempted or completed forcible or incapacitated rape – and that, we know, is a historical and experiential factor that puts them at greater risk for re-victimization and other kinds of adverse outcomes related to drinking and substance use. We really need to be looking earlier to prevent these events.”

Prof. Carey considers the prevalence of rape described in the study to be at “epidemic levels.” She believes that the issue has remained inadequately assessed and hopes that this research will contribute to rape on campus being recognized as a widespread and serious problem.

“If you swap in any other physically harmful and psychologically harmful event, a prevalence of 15% would be just unacceptably high,” Prof. Carey says. “If, for instance, 15% of our young people were breaking their legs in their first year of school, we would expect that the community would do something to enhance the safety of the environment.”

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