Looking Beyond Campus Sexual Assault

The stats are alarming. Nearly 15 percent of American women are victims of rape. And girls between the ages of 16 and 19 are four times more likely to be victims of rape or sexual assault than the general population. With these statistics, it is understandable why prevention efforts often focus on college-aged women, especially considering high profile sexual assault cases including the Columbia University student who has garnered national attention for carrying her mattress around campus and the recent spring break gang rape in Panama City, Florida. New resources and efforts have emerged to combat violence on campuses. The White House’s new initiative, “It’s On Us”, seeks to raise awareness and engage the community to take a stand against sexual assault. The recent FY16 budget proposed by the Obama Administration included a $14 million increase in funding for campus violence programs while sexual assault programs as a whole were budgeted at $3 million less than in FY15. These campus prevention and response efforts are clearly necessary and warranted, but it is important that they don’t diminish resources directed toward survivors who do not fall into the population of young women in college.

A recent report from the US Department of Justice, Rape and Sexual Assault Victimization Among College-Age Females, 1995–2013, found that nonstudents were raped at a rate that was 1.2 times higher than students. And there are other differences. Rural nonstudents experience much higher rates of rape than rural students – 2 times higher. And while women aged 18-24 have the highest rates of sexual assault of all age groups, the remaining 62.6% of rape survivors were under 18 or over 25 years of age at the time of their assault.

SA Chart 2013Young women aged 18-24 who are nonstudents will likely have few resources and be less economically secure than their peers in college. Women with a high school diploma earn an average $21,968 a year, which is 72% of the income needed to be economically secure. The physical and psychological care, new safety measures and other resources needed to move forward and recover from violence are often out of reach for those who are economically insecure. Furthermore, those in the workforce with lower incomes – especially women and minorities – also often lack the necessary workplace protections such as sick leave so that they can attend to their safety needs.

Rural survivors also face challenges to safety and economic security due to geographic isolation, absent or deficient resources, and depressed economic opportunity. Not only are rural women more economically insecure than their urban peers, they have less access to critical victim services. While survivors on campus access to basic health services on campus and support services as required by Title IX, in rural parts of the country such services either don’t exist or require survivors to travel significant distances for help. In a survey of rural prosecutors, two-thirds report that there were no rape crisis services in their jurisdictions and that 62.5% lacked trained sexual assault nurse practitioners.

These survivors need adequate resources and supports so they can move forward and recover from violence. While the attention and resources that campus sexual assault is receiving is necessary and welcome, it shouldn’t be at the expense of or overshadow the needs of other survivors. As this year’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month concludes, we mustn’t forget the other victims of sexual assault.

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