Campus rape is a sexual assault that is associated in some way with a college or university. In many cases, the victim or perpetrator is a student at that institution of higher education (IHE); in other cases, the assault occurs on or near the campus. Accurate statistics on campus rape are difficult to obtain, because many women do not report their assaults to the IHE or the police. Various studies conducted over the past two decades have produced a wide range of estimates: One study numbers the victims as 12 percent of college women; another says 78 percent. Nationwide, the age group with the highest number of rape victimizations is 16– 24, which coincides with the traditional age bracket for college women.
The most generally accepted statistic reports that one in four female college students experiences campus rape. The average victim is an 18-year-old woman. Campus rape falls into two general categories: stranger rape and acquaintance rape. Stranger rape is perpetrated by someone entirely unknown to the victim. Acquaintance rape includes any person the victim knows, from a casual acquaintance such as a classmate or friend to a boyfriend or spouse. Date rape and party rape are more specific categories of acquaintance rape based on the context of the relationship. Date rape occurs during a dating relationship, ranging from a first date to a committed relationship. Party rape includes situations where the victim and perpetrator are strangers but part of the same social situation. Campus rape occurs most often in dormitories, off-campus housing, or fraternity houses.
Many assaults occur during or after parties, and one or both of those involved have usually consumed alcohol. Eight out of 10 campus rapes are acquaintance rapes, and 57 percent involve a date. The assailants generally ignore the woman’s verbal and physical protests and use verbal coercion and, at times, physical force or the threat of force. Although the experiences are psychologically traumatic, the victims rarely reveal their assaults, with only about 5 percent reported to the police and 58 percent revealed to anyone at all.
Few of the victims of campus rape seek counseling after being raped. Some rape victims drop out of school or transfer to another university. Campus rape is underreported for several reasons. First, many victims believe that they are at fault for the assault, perhaps because of drinking, accepting a date, or being at the man’s residence. Second, many women do not report their assaults in the fear that they will be subjected to further pain and humiliation at the hands of the college authorities or police. They fear the authorities will not take their assault seriously or will consider them responsible. Also, some students do not report rapes because they do not want their parents to know. And finally, some victims do not even realize that their experience can be considered rape. Every college or university responds to reports of campus rape differently. Victims are usually presented with two options: pursue criminal charges or use the campus judicial system.
Criminal prosecution is time-consuming and requires strong evidence; in addition, many prosecutors do not believe they can win cases of acquaintance rape and decline to press charges; thus campus justice may be the only option available to the victim. Advocates of campus justice say their method is swift, sensitive, and private and may allow for more assailants to be found guilty than does criminal prosecution. However, campus justice has numerous drawbacks. The most serious punishment for assailants is expulsion; and many who have been found guilty receive lighter sentences, such as community service or probation. Cases are handled in a variety of settings; some IHEs suggest rape charges be adjudicated with mediation, while others prefer disciplinary hearings.
The methods used in disciplinary hearings vary widely. Some hearings involve lawyers, student or faculty advocates, and other witnesses, while others may include just the victim, assailant, and a few administrators. Hearings may be open or closed to the public; however, open hearings generally prove more traumatic for the victim. Some IHEs have tried to protect the privacy of the assailant by claiming that the Federal Education Records and Privacy Act forbids disclosure of the assailant’s punishment to the victim and community at large. However, the 1992 Ramsted Amendment requires that both parties be notified of the outcome of a hearing, thus protecting the victim’s rights.
Critics of campus justice note the conflict of interest that occurs when IHEs advise rape victims to use campus justice rather than press criminal charges, for many IHEs have preferred to protect their reputations and avoid potential lawsuits from the accused rapists if they are expelled. More recently, some victims of campus rape have turned to civil litigation to adjudicate their cases. This process lends greater control to the victim, who is merely a witness in criminal or campus judicial proceedings; the assailant, if found guilty, pays financial compensation rather than receiving prison time.
Colleges and universities have used a variety of strategies to address and prevent campus rape. Many IHEs have now created clear policies about unacceptable sexual behavior that include strict penalties and have educated all members of the academic community, including faculty and staff. Acknowledging that most campus rapes are not committed by strangers, many students receive acquaintance rape education both at freshman orientation and throughout their college years. Women are alerted to the dangers of supposedly nonrisky settings, such as dorm rooms, especially when alcohol is present, and taught specific tactics against verbal and physical coercion and aggression by male acquaintances. Men are educated about what constitutes rape and the importance of verbal consent.