Why Do Many Victims of Sexual Assault on College Campuses Remain Silent?

Dr. Sandra Caron

Previous studies have documented widespread incidents of sexual assault and misconduct on the campuses of American colleges and universities. While there is debate on the accuracy of the reports on the percentage of women students who have sexually assaulted, most experts agree that the reported cases of sexual assault and misconduct are far below the actual number of incidents that occur.

A study by Sandra Caron, a professor of family relations and human sexuality at the University of Maine, and Deborah Mitchell, a retired UMaine police sergeant examines why so many women students decline to report such incidents to the campus administration or law enforcement authorities. Not only do a large percentage of rapes go unreported to authorities, nearly a third of victims, according to one analysis, don’t share their experiences with anyone, not even a close friend or family member.

The authors found that the two most common reasons given for not telling anyone about being assaulted were internal blame, shame and guilt, and external blame and/or fear of humiliation. Nearly all the women said they would have told someone under the right circumstances, and more than half said another person’s initial response made them decide to keep silent.

The authors note that the results of their study provide evidence of the need for more resources and education. They also highlight the need for colleges and universities to find ways to encourage women to speak about their experiences and, in the process, find support. More than half the women interviewed for the study said sharing their stories with the researchers had been helpful and healing.

“Institutions of higher education need to provide ways to educate young men about their roles and responsibilities to ensure safe and respectful behavior toward others,” the authors add.

The full study, “‘I’ve Never Told Anyone’: A Qualitative Analysis of Interviews With College Women Who Experienced Sexual Assault and Remained Silent,” was published in the journal Violence Against Women. It may be accessed here.

Filed Under: Research/StudySexual Assault/Harassment


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