Sexual violence is defined as any unwanted sexual contact or behavior in which consent is not present. Many state and federal agencies consider sexual violence a public health crisis needing immediate action.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC):

On college campuses across the nation, sexual violence is rampant. Numerous studies and reports have documented this somewhat invisible scourge. Studies are often the only source of information regarding on-campus sexual crimes because these crimes are severely underreported.

A report commissioned by the United States Department of Justice uncovered many alarming facts about on-campus sexual violence between the years of 1995-2013. Of particular concern, they reported that:

What is sexual violence?


Sexual violence is any sexual act or threat that is nonconsensual. It may or may not result in the culmination of a sexual act. Sexual violence can take many forms, including:

Sexual violence is not dependent on whether the victim and perpetrator are peers, partners, or strangers. In cases of intimate partner violence (IPV), sexual coercion and rape can and do occur even though there is an ongoing relationship.

In fact, IPV is common on and off campus and represents a large percentage of cases of sexual and nonsexual violence towards women.

Actual physical contact is not necessary for an action to be considered a sexually violent act or an act of sexual misconduct. In fact, one of the most common forms of sexual misconduct is stalking, which is a behavior that is highly predictive of violence.

1 in 4 women experience sexual violence

The prevalence of campus sexual violence towards women is alarming. In 2019, the Association of American Universities (AAU) commissioned a survey to continue its effort (begun in 2015) of data collection regarding the issues of sexual assault and misconduct.

Types of questions asked on the survey included inquiries about nonconsensual sexual contacts, stalking, intimate partner violence (IPV), and the availability and utilization of campus resources for sexual assault victims.

One alarming piece of information gleaned in the survey was that one in every four college women has experienced some form of sexual violence.

The 2019 survey was a follow-up to the first study conducted in 2015, which surveyed the student populations of 27 schools. The 2019 survey had 33 schools and 181,752 students participate.

The women surveyed were undergraduate and graduate students. The results showed that undergraduates were nearly three times more likely to experience sexual violence than women working towards advanced degrees.

Unfortunately, most of the victimized women never filed a report with campus security or the local police department because many of them felt the incident was too trivial and not deserving of official or police action.

According to the survey:

65% of rape and 66.7% of sexual touching incidents included offenders who were drinking alcohol when the attack took place
Across all schools, between 67% and 90% of women who suffered non consensual penetration were drinking themselves

3% of women penetration victims reported that a substance was slipped into their drink, rendering them unable to give consent

11% of women penetration victims suspected that they were given something to render them unable to give consent
Attacks on 35.3% of all women penetration victims who knowingly or unknowingly ingested a substance occurred with the victim unconscious for some or all of the assault
22.9% of women penetration victims were unsure of whether they were asleep or passed out
Sexual Assault Statistics

This demonstrates that college women are in significant danger of being sexually assaulted during their time at school. The particular school a woman attends may play a role in the risk of assault. If a student attends a university or college with high incidences of alcohol consumption and underage drinking, then the chances of sexual assault may increase dramatically.

Sexual violence is common on college campuses

Interestingly, the rates of sexual victimization quantified in the survey show that differences in the prevalence rates of sexual victimization at different schools were statistically insignificant. However, there were indeed large differences in prevalence rates between certain schools:

5 schools had
undergrad women victimization rate

16 schools had
undergrad women victimization rate

12 schools had
undergrad women victimization rate

Some schools had a prevalence rate as low as 14%, while others had a prevalence rate of 32% of women undergraduates—more than double. Although the difference is big, both percentages are alarming and need to be addressed.

For graduate-level college women, the rates of female sexual victimization are lower but still shocking. Nearly 10% of women pursuing professional degrees reported being the victim of nonconsensual sexual contact involving physical force or the inability to consent to or stop what was happening.

Additionally, graduate-level women were more likely to be stalked than their undergraduate counterparts. Perpetrators frequently included instructors and colleagues.

Another study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) looked at sexual assault against young adults for the 2014-2015 school year and found similar numbers. The study also showed that as many of 10% of college women who were sexually victimized suffered penetration, which is defined as forcible rape.

The findings in the BJS study are concerning and are backed up by another study carried out between 2005-2007. The Campus Sexual Assault (CSA) study was administered as a survey and showed high numbers of sexual assaults, including 11.1% of women being assaulted while incapacitated.

Sexual Violence by Year of Study

Another data point the AAU study looked at was the incidence rate of sexual violence against college women by year in school. The data shows an interesting trend present at all 33 schools surveyed: reported incidences of sexual violence decline from 16.1% of freshman college women to 11.3% of seniors.

Various plausible reasons may explain why the incidences of college sexual violence decrease as a woman progresses through college. One reason is orientation and familiarity. A freshman may not be familiar enough with her new life and surroundings to navigate risks properly. In time, she will come to better understand her environment and be more successful in evading harm.

Another reason why reports of sexual violence against women students decline as the years progress may be due to maturity. Most freshman women are only 18 years old and have never lived alone in life. When they arrive on campus for the first time, they have not yet developed the necessary instincts and cautions to avoid danger.

However, nothing in this data should be construed to imply that women are responsible for their own assaults. Their maturity levels or familiarity with risks on campus are not causes of sexual assult. The perpetrator is always the individual at fault. Policymakers should use caution when interpreting the data and not draw faulty and potentially harmful conclusions that place responsibility on victims.

It must also be noted that the four-year decline in sexual violence is not drastic and that there are still many violations perpetrated on women in latter years of study.

Sexual Violence by Location

The AAU survey demonstrates definite trends for where sexual violence against college women takes place. According to the data, women victimized by penetration reported being assaulted in the following locations:

The numbers for sexual touching are somewhat different:

Sexual violence is more common than other crimes on campus

Crime statistics for universities and colleges show that sexual violence occurs more often than other crimes. For example, the crime of robbery is defined as theft through the use or threat of force. Statistics show that women are twice as likely to be sexually assaulted than robbed while on campus—although they are less likely to report sexual assult. In contrast, women off campus are more likely to be robbed than sexually assaulted.

Sexual violence happens more during the fall semester

As summer gives way to fall, droves of students return to classes at their respective institutions of higher learning. They are full of excitement and energy, ready to take on a new school year and, for many, attend parties and social events. Given the correlation between sexual assault and alcohol use, both by victims and perpetrators, it may not be surprising that the incidence rate of sexual violence rises during the first few months of the new school year.

According to a 2007 study by the Office of Justice Programs (OJP), the vast majority of sexually assaulted college women reported being victimized in the month of October. Of this majority, 20% were victims of physical assault, and 16% were incapacitated.

Not surprisingly, most assaults in all categories occured between the hours of midnight and 6:00 a.m. That said, a notably higher percentage of the women who were physically forced into committing sexual acts were victimized between the hours of noon to 6:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. to midnight.

Negative impacts of sexual assault on young adults

Sexual Assault on Young Adults

Sexual violence can negatively impact the lives of young adults for years and even decades following sexual trauma. In addition to the normal rigors of life, sexual assault victims must also contend with traumatic memories and injuries that stifle their progress.

Many young adults who experience sexual violence also experienced it as minors. According to the CDC, a female child who experiences sexual abuse has a 2-13 times increased risk of becoming a victim of a sexual assault later in life. Individuals who are victimized sexually as minors face double the risk of being in a non-sexual abusive relationship as an adult.

All young adults who become victims of sexual violence, on or off campus, are at an increased risk of engaging in unhealthy behaviors and activities. Unhealthy behaviors that victimized young adults are at risk for include:


Sexual trauma victims have higher smoking rates than their non-victimized peers. Although cigarette use is on the decline for the U.S. population as a whole, the number of new cigarette smokers among young adults has increased.


Alcohol is also commonly used by victims of sexual trauma. In many cases, victims were already consumers of alcohol or had tried it before being assaulted.


As with cigarettes and alcohol, sexual abuse victims often turn to drugs at higher rates than other young adults, perhaps as an attempt to escape the trauma and pain.

Unhealthy Sexual Behavior

Sexual assault has an impact on natural sexual development. Young adults who are victimized may engage in unhealthy sexual behavior that jeopardizes their health and the health of others.

Common Injuries

Victims may also have to tend with other difficult and potentially life-crippling injuries suffered in an assault. Some common injuries include:

Broken Bones

Sexual violence can lead to broken bones due to the victim struggling or the perpetrator striking or throwing the victim.

Genital Lacerations and Other Injuries

Sexual assault perpetrators may manifest levels of violence that injure the victim’s genitals or mouth. Some perpetrators may also use foreign objects. These injuries can have long-lasting effects on victims and their ability to have healthy sexual relations.

Bruising and Scrapes

Bruising and scrapes from sexual assault can be quite extensive depending on the levels of violence.

Emotional Injuries from Campus Sexual Violence

The psychological injuries caused by sexual assault can be numerous:

Additionally, the financial costs of rape are steep due to loss of productivity and ambition. Rape can cost $122,461 per victim.

What to do after a sexual assault

If you have been the victim of a sexual assault, there are some important steps to take.

Safety First

Get to a place of safety, where your attacker can no longer reach you. This could be a friend’s place or an authority office.

Get Medical Care

Get medical care for injuries and testing. In most cases, sexual assault testing should occur within 72-96 hours of the incident. If testing occurs after this time period, evidence may be lost or untrustworthy.

Contact Campus Authorities and Police

It is important to report sexual assault to the school and police. Doing so helps keep the campus safer and prevents statutes of limitation from lapsing.

Seek Counseling

Talking about sexual assault with a trained professional can help you deal with the trauma caused by an assault. The National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673) allows you to talk to a trained staff member about the assault and how to proceed.

Seek Out Support Groups

You are not alone. Survivors of sexual abuse have banded together in a variety of different forums and groups to support each others’ recoveries and day-to-day lives.

If you or someone you know has been the victim of a sexual assault,

contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4763) to speak with a trained and experienced professional.