Sexual Assault on College Campuses

Sexual Assault on College Campuses

Sara L. Manewith, Director
Lisa Ehrlich-Menard, Manager of Community Education

Recent activity at Northwestern University shines the light on sexual assault on college campuses.   Northwestern University cancelled all fraternity activities after students reported being drugged at fraternity houses and students organized a protest to end “Greek life” because of the link to sexual assault on campus (Chicago Tribune, Oct. 1, 2021). 

These allegations are neither new nor shocking.  We have seen them before:

  • In 2017, Northwestern University received two reports of female students being drugged and possibly sexually assaulted.
  • In 2016, Brock Turner was convicted of sexually assaulting an unconscious Chanel Miller on Stanford’s campus.
  • In 2019, a University of Michigan student, Jane Doe, filed suit against Psi Upsilon fraternity after being drugged and raped at a frat party. 

Data from RAINN (Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network) data shows that 13% of all college students experience rape or sexual assault; a poll from the Washington Post puts that number higher at 20% for women college students, and 5% for male students. Data on non-binary students is lacking but according to the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence, 73 percent of LGBTQ-identified college students experience sexual harassment or assault by the time they graduate.

And according to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 50% of college sexual assaults involve alcohol. These are only the reported cases.

But why are college campuses so ripe for drugging and assault?  JCFS Response for Teens, an expert in adolescent development and wellness for 50 years, understands multiple factors:

  • As young people “launch” toward adult lives of greater independence, risk-taking is an important way of learning how to make better decisions
  • Our culture often teaches young men that sexual aggression is “masculine”; this can be especially true in settings – like fraternities and sports -- where young men feel the need to prove their masculinity, or be part of the “boys club”
  • Sexual education and sexual assault prevention are often taught from a heteronormative/cis-centric perspective, leaving the LGBTQI+ community out altogether. 
  • Young people are provided with inadequate education to understand sexuality, relationships, substance misuse, and the potentially dangerous combination of alcohol/drugs and sex.

For nearly 50 years, Response for Teens, serving young people ages 12 – 24, has been providing school- and community-based education on sexual health, healthy relationships, and substance misuse prevention.  We talk to young people every day and see the gaps in their knowledge and understanding of important social skills including,

  • Being able to establish, maintain, and respect personal boundaries, especially around sexual engagement
  • Assessing whether a romantic relationship is healthy or not
  • Good decision-making about drinking and other drug use
  • Communicating with partners and importantly, with adults, when they need help

Our junior and high school programming touches on all these matters but it is not enough.  That’s why we’ve been expanding our support groups and educational programming to college age young people.

What You Didn’t Learn in High School is a 2-part sexuality education program for young adults, an age group more likely to be developing consensual sexual relationships.  As the landscape of relationships shift in college, we help navigate the grey.

Our What Now, What’s Next support group provides the opportunity for college-age young people to talk together, along with a licensed therapist, about the issues that they’re facing.  Sexuality almost always comes up. 

It’s October and Homecoming season for many high schools; prom season will be here before we know it.  With these rites of passage high schools are challenged to monitor beverages, watch for aggression, and maintain safety. 

Response for Teens would like to bolster these efforts by providing more young people with knowledge and skills that they can use to make better decisions and stay safe.  And as many will prepare to go off to college in less than a year from now, we wonder, what are the things that they may not learn in High School?