Sexual Violence Data Collection


As mentioned earlier in this toolkit, collecting data on the prevalence of sexual violence on campus is complicated by the numerous factors that represent barriers to reporting an incidence of sexual violence to the police or to a university or college official. Significant research has identified several emotional and practical obstacles that may prevent students from coming forward and disclosing their experiences, creating a massive underreporting problem.

Emotional barriers to reporting for survivors represent feelings that they may have that would prevent them from disclosing. For example, some students may not want to come forward because they want to keep their victimization a secret, not wanting to shift their internal perception of themself, as well as others’ perceptions of them. Students may also fear risking their interpersonal relationships when they disclose a sexual assault, this can include both their external friendships as well as their relationship with the person who assaulted them. Alternatively, some students may not disclose due to a fear of retaliation from the person who assaulted them. Students may fear the potential of not being believed by their peers or by professionals such as campus security. Students may also have concerns about their confidentiality when reporting a sexual assault, fearing that their experiences will be disclosed to others without their consent. Finally, students may be feeling embarrassed, ashamed, or guilty about their experiences of sexual violence, leading them to keep the experience to themselves.

Perceptions of police represent another barrier to reporting. One study out of the United States found that students with more satisfaction with the police are more likely to report sexual assault. Another study from the United States similarly found that trust in police and university officials was among the most consistent factors that affect students’ likelihood to report an incidence of sexual violence. The same study interestingly found that students are significantly more likely to report their experiences of sexual violence to the police than to university officials. For more information on the effects of policing on certain student populations, see CICMH’s Mental Health Crisis Response on Campus Toolkit.

Another barrier to reporting lies in the readability of sexual violence policies and protocols. In a study out of the United States, researchers found that the average sexual assault reporting instructions are written at a grade level of 15.4, which represents the third year of college or university. Furthermore, 81% of the institutions studied provided sexual assault reporting instructions written at or above a first-year college reading level. These results suggest that college and university students with an average reading comprehension level may not be able to understand instructions for reporting a sexual assault on their campus.

Finally, another study examining barriers to reporting sexual violence found that confusion over what constitutes sexual assault is a contributing factor to underreporting. The results of their survey of students in the United States identified a lack of understanding about what counts as a sexual assault which could be attributed to the normalization of rape myths. In particular, the study found that students were confused about whether an alcohol-involved sexual assault was in fact a sexual assault, suggesting a need to educate post-secondary students about alcohol-involved assaults.

Guide: PDF Version