How Sexual Assault Impacts College Men — And Two Ways to Prevent It.
Sexual violence on campus affects all students. Learn more about why men need to pay attention to campus sexual assault.
Updated August 5, 2022
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DISCLAIMER: If you or someone you know has experienced sexual assault, please seek legal counsel. If you are experiencing a life-threatening situation, seek help or dial 911.
Every 68 seconds, someone in the U.S. experiences sexual assault. And — according to the anti-sexual violence organization RAINN — adults ages 18-30 face the highest risk of sexual violence.
Statistics show that college-aged women experience the highest rates of sexual violence of any group. As a result, much of the discussion around campus sexual assault focuses on the behavior and experiences of women.
Sexual assault is more than a women's issue. It's a problem that affects everyone in the campus community. And men can play a major role in stopping sexual violence on campus.
Sexual Violence as a Campus-Wide Problem
Sexual violence affects a large number of college students. Overall, 13% of students experience sexual violence during college, according to a 2019 survey of over 180,000 undergraduate and graduate students. And more than one in four female undergrads reported nonconsensual sexual contact while in college.
For decades, campus communities have tried to stop sexual violence. Yet the percentage of students who experience sexual assault remains high –– and even increased between 2015-2019.
Because of the prevalence of sexual violence, students and colleges have used many different strategies to try and protect the campus community. Starting in the 1970s, student activists organized Take Back the Night marches. Campuses held events centered on awareness, such as Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and safety escort services promised to protect students.
Many of these approaches assume that only women encounter sexual abuse. And some treated reducing sexual violence as a job for women alone. PSAs warning women to never leave a drink unattended or stay in groups at night place the responsibility for risk-reduction primarily on women.
But the epidemic of sexual violence on campus does not only affect women. The dominant model for understanding sexual violence sees women as victims and men as perpetrators. However, that model erases and obscures the men who experience sexual violence on college campuses.
Understanding Campus Sexual Assault Rates for Men
Women experience the majority of campus sexual assaults. Additionally, according to a 2019 survey of college students from the American Association of Universities, 25.9% of undergraduate women and 9.7% of women graduate students experience nonconsensual sexual contact while enrolled in college.
But men also experience sexual assault in college. A total of 6.8% of undergraduate men and 2.5% of male graduate students reported nonconsensual sexual contact.
“In fact, college increases the risk of sexual assault for men. Male college students are 78% more likely to experience sexual assault than non-students between the ages of 18-24.”
In fact, college increases the risk of sexual assault for men. Male college students are 78% more likely to experience sexual assault than non-students between the ages of 18-24.
Surprisingly, women enrolled in college are actually less likely than non-students of the same age to experience sexual violence. Women ages 18-24 who are college students are 20% less likely to face sexual assault than their non-students of the same age.
The lower risk of sexual assault for college women may indicate that campuses are taking some effective steps towards stopping sexual violence. But the same is not true for men in college.
Further, sexual orientation and gender identity also influence the rates of sexual assault on campus. LGBTQ+ students reported even higher rates of sexual violence than heterosexual students. For example, gay men were over three times more likely to experience sexual violence than heterosexual men.
And trans students reported among the highest rates of sexual violence — 22.8% of undergraduates and 14.5% of graduate students reported nonconsensual sexual contact.
In addition to sexual assault, many college students experience sexual harassment on campus. Around 42% of students reported sexual harassment at their school, including more than one in three undergraduate men. Here, sexual harassment includes any behavior with sexual connotations that created an intimidating/hostile enviornment, interfered with an individual's academic performance, or negatively impacted an individual's ability to participate in an academic program.
Unfortunately, over 90% of college students who experience sexual assault never report it. And research suggests that men are less likely than women to report sexual violence. As a result, conversations about campus sexual assault often leave out men who experience sexual abuse.
Two Ways Men Can Help Prevent Campus Sexual Assault
In the past, risk-prevention strategies have focused primarily on changing women's behavior. But more effective approaches also require men's participation. Here are two ways:
Active Bystander Training
For example, active bystander training — for both men and women — can reduce sexual assault on campus. In 2013, Congress passed the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act. The act stated that colleges needed to provide bystander training to students as part of Title IX.
Many forms of bystander training have helped make campus safer. Recently, the University of Kentucky (UK) instituted a bystander training program. According to a 2016 study that compared sexual violence at UK with two comparison schools without a program, UK reported a 17% lower rate of sexual violence overall.
This result demonstrates the power of educating students about how to intervene in potentially dangerous situations. By intervening in situations with a potential for sexual assault, students can help protect oneanother.
Student Advocacy and Activism
Students can also use their voices to advocate for policies and programs that target sexual violence. Organizations like Men Can Stop Rape provide resources and training for men at colleges across the country. Learn about the support services on your campus. Ask questions about bystander training programs. And encourage administrators to improve sexual violence resources.
Stopping campus sexual violence requires the cooperation of all students — regardless of their gender. While awareness of the problem helps, men need to join women in taking an active stance against sexual assault. Learning bystander intervention strategies, advocating for campus support services, and standing up for survivors can help end campus sexual assault.
Frequently Asked Questions About Men and Campus Sexual Assault
How common is campus sexual assault?
Campus sexual assault affects a large number of college students. According to a 2020 report on sexual assault and sexual misconduct from the American Association of Universities, around 26% of female undergraduates and 7% of male undergraduates experience nonconsensual sexual contact while in college.
What percentage of college men experience sexual assault?
More than one in 15 male undergraduates experiences sexual assault in college, according to a 2020 AAU report. The report surveyed more than 100,000 undergrads, asking about their experience with nonconsensual sexual contact. Almost 7% of male undergraduates and 2.5% of male graduate students reported experiencing sexual assault.
How many men experience sexual assault while in college?
More than 7 million men enrolled in undergraduate programs in 2019. According to data from the AAU, 6.8% of male undergraduates report nonconsensual sexual contact during college. As a result, around half a million male undergraduates may be survivors of sexual assault.
How can men intervene to stop sexual assault?
Men can participate in active bystander training to identify warning signs of sexual assault and learn how to intervene. Stepping in can prevent sexual violence. Men should practice intervening in potentially dangerous situations and support survivors of sexual assault.
How can men support survivors of sexual assault?
The vast majority of college sexual assaults are never reported. If survivors do confide in you, avoid minimizing or denying their experience. Recognize that male survivors often experience different responses than female survivors. And advocate for support services related to sexual violence on your campus.