An updated review of institutions of higher education’s responses to sexual assault: Results from a nationally representative sample

Richards, T.N. (2020)
Journal of Interpersonal Violence. 34(10), 1983 – 2012
Type of Profession:

It has been more than a decade since the national 1999 study (Karjane, Fisher, & Cullen, 2002) reviewed a nationally representative sample of Institutions of Higher Education (IHEs) and documented “sexual assault on college campuses” and “what colleges are doing about it.” The current research aimed to examine the current state of IHE’s response to campus sexual assault as well as any changes in IHE’s response over the previous decade. This study provides a comparison of the data reported in the original report with 2015 data from a statistically equivalent sample.

Expanded Abstract: 

A significant body of literature has documented high rates of sexual assault among U.S. college students (Fisher, Cullen, & Turner, 2000; Kilpatrick, Resnick, Ruggiero, Conoscenti, & McCauley, 2007; Koss, Gidycz, & Wisniewski, 1987). For example, a recent meta-analysis of research on campus sexual assault indicated prevalence estimates for completed rape (i.e., forcible vaginal, anal, or oral intercourse using physical force or threat of force) of college women ranging from 0.5% to 8.4%, and estimates for unwanted sexual contact (i.e., attempted or completed unwanted kissing, sexual touching using physical force, threat of physical force, and/or verbal coercion) of college women ranging from 1.8% to 34% (Fedina, Holmes, & Backes, 2018). Furthermore, findings from the National College Women Sexual Victimization study estimates that as many as 25% of women will be victims of sexual violence during their college careers (Fisher et al., 2000).

The study found that, in 2015, the overwhelming majority of IHEs had a Title IX policy against sex discrimination (95%). In addition, 85% of these IHEs had developed a separate policy regarding sexual violence, an increase from 58% of IHEs sampled in 2002. At the same time, in 2015 several institutional sectors had fewer policies than average: less than 2-year public and private nonprofit (55%), 2-year private non-profit IHEs (75%), and less than 2-year private for-profit (66%). Over 60% (65%) of IHEs included their sexual assault policy in the Student Handbook, compared with 19% in 2002.  In 2015, slightly more IHEs—61%—identified offering programs aimed at preventing sexual violence than in 2002 (58%). However, large differences in the availability of primary prevention programs were observed across IHE sector types. The greatest rates of prevention programs were identified at 4-year public (92%), Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) (77%), 4-year private non-profit (75%), and 2-year public IHEs (72%); fewer programs were observed at Tribal institutions (50%), 2-year private non-profit (50%), less than 2-year private for-profit (29%), and less than 2-year public and private non-profit IHEs (18%).

In 2015, 82% of IHEs notified students regarding who should be contacted if a sexual assault occurs. Sixty-seven percent identified at least one Title IX coordinator on the campus, and 81% listed procedures students should follow if he or she is assaulted. The highest rates of contact information, Title IX coordinators, and post-assault procedures were observed among public 4-year, HBCU, 4-year private, and 2-year public IHEs. In addition, a comparison of IHE data in 2002 and 2015 revealed substantial increases in the percentage of IHEs providing post-assault information to students.  The 2015 update also addressed confidentiality, on- and off-campus resources, and investigatory /disciplinary processes.