The Crisis for College Sexual Assault Victims

April 17, 2023

Written by

Claudia Black Young Adult Center

Author Headshot



By Anna McKenzie

Federal law, specifically Title IX, is designed to protect us from sex discrimination in education. The US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights requires colleges and universities that receive federal funding to operate in a nondiscriminatory manner related to sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

But when it comes to sexual assault on college campuses, investigative data reveals that disciplinary action is infrequently and inconsistently applied. 

Additionally, the media has contributed to the offhand way that sexual crimes are perceived and handled. Some TV shows and movies in past decades have depicted sexual harassment — and even assault — as an inevitable consequence of the male sex drive.

Some TV shows and movies in past decades have depicted sexual harassment — and even assault — as an inevitable consequence of the male sex drive.

Thankfully, that attitude is changing; new portrayals in the media have begun to reflect the impact of these incidents, from the lack of justice for perpetrators to the trauma and effects the survivors endure.

Sexual Assault on College Campuses: Statistics

Sexual assault on college campuses is a chronic problem that affects a number of students each year. According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), here are the facts:

  • About 13% of all undergraduate and graduate students experience rape or sexual assault.
  • More than 26% of female undergraduate students experience rape or sexual assault.
  • Nearly 7% of male undergraduate students experience rape or sexual assault.
  • A little more than 23% of transgender, genderqueer, or nonconforming college students have been sexually assaulted.
  • Since entering college, nearly 6% of students have experienced stalking.
  • Only 20% of female student survivors (aged 18-24) report their experience to law enforcement.

USA TODAY conducted an investigation of Title IX data from 107 universities and discovered the following:

  • Only one in 12,400 students were suspended due to sexual misconduct.
  • Only one in 22,900 students were expelled due to sexual misconduct.
  • Roughly one in five female students, and one in 16 male students experience sexual assault in college.

The investigation revealed that a number of Title IX offices at these universities were understaffed, and cases were closed prematurely. When it comes to disciplining sexual assault, colleges have a lot of ground to make up.

Part of the problem may be solved through better prevention strategies. The burden of preventing sexual assault has often fallen on women, an ironic and unequal responsibility. While it’s critical for women to know how to reduce their risks of sexual assault, colleges need to change their social norms so that these crimes can decrease.

As reported by the American Psychological Association, implementing approaches like the coed Green Dot program can help everyone become more involved in preventing sexual assault on campus. Research showed that those who received Green Dot or similar training were less likely to believe in rape myths (such as women are responsible for being assaulted), and more likely to intervene when they saw someone in a risky situation. 

How the Media Portrays Sexual Assault

Does the media portray an accurate depiction of sexual assault? Historically, sexual harassment and assault portrayed in television shows and movies have been depicted as consequences of the male sex drive. It often appears to be both an unavoidable feature of relationships that victims are just expected to move past, and a plot device which ascribes villainy to certain perpetrators who receive few, if any, consequences.

When it comes to sexual assault portrayed in movies specifically, past decades have depicted sexual crimes as inevitable and even socially acceptable. Vox describes how ‘80s media even portrayed date rape as humorous, such as in the film Sixteen Candles, brushing it off as “harmless hijinks.”

Some of today’s media portrayals still seem to excuse graphic sexual crimes by making them a vehicle for story lines. An example would be Game of Thrones, which depicted a violent rape scene for the sake of characterization, which garnered considerable backlash, as reported by Insider.

However, new shows are depicting different aspects of sexual assault, namely the lack of justice and the effects on survivors. Programs like Netflix’s Luckiest Girl Alive portrays a sexual assault survivor’s journey to healing and offers resources from RAINN on an end card. RAINN was also given the opportunity to review the script and scenes. Shows like this, including others like Firefly Lane, offer a window into the complex pain and recovery process that survivors deal with, giving hope to those who have endured similar experiences.

Everyone Deserves to Heal and Be Heard

If you’ve experienced sexual assault, you’re not alone. You may be dealing with trauma, pain, and shame from the event. You deserve the chance to be heard and to heal from your experience.

If you’ve experienced sexual assault, you’re not alone.

At the Claudia Black Young Adult Center, we provide support and treatment for young adults who are dealing with trauma, mental health conditions, and substance use. Our program offers you a safe space to get a fresh start and build resilience.

The truth is that you’re stronger than you think. Your trauma can be resolved and doesn’t have to continue to disrupt your life. Give us a call today to find out more about how we can help.