Nearly 19% of Female College Freshmen will be Victims of Rape or Attempted Rape

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The results of a study from a university in the Northeast are pretty shocking. (Photo: Getty Images) 

Just last week, NFL first draft pick and current Florida State University (FSU) quarterback Jameis Winston filed a lawsuit — claiming damages upward of $75,000 — against the young woman who had filed a Title IX suit against FSU and sued Winston for sexual assault.

“Mr. Winston brings this action against Ms. Kinsman out of necessity, not malice or ill will,” the court filing said.

And while Erica Kinsman not only filed suits against FSU and Winston, she also went public with her story in the documentary film The Hunting Ground, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival this year. While Winston says otherwise, Kinsman tells a troubling story of assault — and the way in which the university sought to sweep her allegations under the carpet — in the film. (The DNA from Kinsman’s rape kit matched a sample taken from Winston.)

The prevalence of these stories of campus assault have been dominating the news of late, indicating an epidemic of rape and sexual assault at American colleges.

In a study released today, the Journal of Adolescent Health finds that 18.6 percent of college women are the victims of rape or attempted rape by the end of their freshman year. 

Related: What’s Really Behind College Rape Culture?

By the beginning of their sophomore year, that number will have risen to 26 percent for incapacitated rape — or rape involving drugs or alcohol — and 22 percent for forcible rape. The study surveyed 483 college women attending a Northeastern university. The women were surveyed when they first arrived on campus, after the fall semester, after the spring semester, and then again at the conclusion of the summer following their freshman year.

Professor Kate Carey of Brown University’s School of Public Health, the study’s lead author, told Yahoo Health that unfortunately, the findings of her research “are not surprising.”

“Data like these highlight the need to develop programs to proactively prevent sexual assault, for clear and responsive policies for handling such violence when it occurs, and for programs that provide support for victims,” Carey added when asked what changes she would like to see on campuses as a result of her research.

Related: Should Sororities Host Their Own Parties To Prevent Rape?

Carey’s research found that this disturbing trend does not exist in a vacuum; these patterns of behavior begin before students first enter college. Eighteen percent of the same group of students surveyed were reported to have been the victims of attempted and/or incapacitated rape, 15 percent reported forced rape, and overall 28 percent reported rape or attempted rape before they entered college. Furthermore, students who were the victims of incapacitated rape before they entered college were six times more likely to be forcibly raped during their freshman year compared with women who had not experienced incapacitated rape before college.

Carey also points to research done by others that has found that aggression, adoption of traditional masculine gender roles, low empathy, acceptance of rape myths, acceptability of using force in a relationship, and endorsing stereotypes regarding women who drink are all associated with sexual assault. “Thus, certain individuals may be prone to engaging in sexual aggression, then alcohol and peer expectation may provide the supportive environment” for rape on campuses, she said.

In an accompanying editorial in the Journal of Adolescent Health by Heather McCauley, of the Department of Pediatrics of the University of Pittsburgh, and Adam Casler, director of community living at Siena College, write that Carey’s research indicates the need for “a trauma-informed approach to preventing and working with survivors of campus sexual assault. 

Related: Why Women Are Giving Up The Pill

Trauma-informed prevention promotes empowerment and recognizes that sexual assault may affect everything about survivors moving forward, including peer relationships, academic progress, likelihood of engaging in subsequent risky alcohol use, and poor mental health. 

Furthermore, the authors write:

“It also guides us to approach all students as though they have experienced abuse, regardless of whether they have or not, so that we begin each interaction with students prepared to support them where they are. A trauma-informed approach does not necessarily seek disclosure, rather it shifts our frame of reference so that we are mindful of the myriad of experiences that may influence our students. It also equips us with language to normalize conversations about violence, an important step in shifting the culture on campuses from one plagued by silence to one that challenges the misconception that sexual assault is normal or acceptable. … Comprehensive prevention efforts must include training to promote positive bystander intervention and incorporate violence prevention messages into health and wellness education to engage the college community on an ongoing and sustained basis about this important issue.”

“Parents, educators, coaches, and other influential adults all have a role to play in educating boys and girls about health relationships and mutual respect,” Carey tells Yahoo Health, speaking on how sexual assault can be addressed proactively before the men perpetrating these rapes enter college. “Sex health education should go beyond the plumbing and address healthy relationships. Role modeling by adult males is needed. Calling out misogynous language and exploitive marketing is needed.”

Read This Next: What’s in a Rape Kit? 

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