Sexual Assaults Among University Students: Prevention, Support, and Justice

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Sexual assault is common among college-aged women (18 to 25 years), with 1 in 5 reporting having experienced these crimes during their college years. Acute and long-term consequences of sexual assault may include physical trauma, sexually transmitted infections, posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, and substance abuse. Survivors have the option of reporting assaults to the university or to the police, but the goals of these 2 systems—and women’s experiences with them—can be quite different. The criminal justice system’s principal aim is to adjudicate guilt, but the university has the broader purpose of fostering a safe learning environment.

This article explores how university administrators can help prevent sexual assaults and, if necessary, fairly adjudicate claims. The critical points of intervention include nurturing a respectful environment; encouraging reporting; ensuring fair and rigorous investigations; implementing appropriate sanctions for inappropriate behavior; and reintegrating survivors back into the academic community. Importantly, coordination and cooperation between the university and criminal justice systems will improve experiences for survivors of sexual assault.