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February 3, 2015
by Amy Berwick,PhD, LPC, NCC

Sexual Assault on College Campuses

February 3, 2015 05:55 by Amy Berwick,PhD, LPC, NCC

January 28th, two former Vanderbilt football players were found guilty on all counts of aggravated rape of an unconscious woman.  The details of the story as reported in the Tennessean (Barchenger & Walker, 2015) were horrific. The rape occurred 19 months ago. The football players had taken photos and video of their sadistic acts and shared them with friends. The victim, who had been drugged, was unaware that she had been assaulted until video surfaced. 

This incident has received a fair amount of press coverage; however, sexual assault on college campuses has gone largely unaddressed. There are several reasons for this. Most (80%) incidents go unreported (Goldberg, 2014; Dockterman, 2015). Many victims do not realize that a crime has been committed especially if drinking or other drugs are involved or if the victim knows the perpetrator.  Only 12% of rapes on college campuses are reported to law enforcement (Kilpatrick, Resnick, Ruggiero, Conoscenti, & McCauley, 2007). Those reported to college administration are closed. 

The Real Problem

Historically, colleges did not disclose much information related to campus crime and violence. Theoretically it would be harmful to enrollment and alumni support. This changed after the rape and murder of a college freshman at Lehigh University in 1986. An investigation revealed 40 violent crimes had been documented in the 3 years prior to this student’s death. Advocacy led to legislation requiring institutions receiving federal funds to fully disclose all incidents. The Clery Act (Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act) named for the aforementioned Lehigh freshman, is now a federal statute (Jordan, 2014).

A disciplinary committee adjudicates incidents that are brought to the attention of a college official privately. School disciplinary committees are comprised of administrators, faculty, and students who are not trained as lawyers or judges presiding over felony cases. Under Title IX of the United States Education Amendments (1972) schools receiving federal funding are legally required to address sexual assaults and protect victims’ rights to have equal access to education in a non-hostile environment. The disciplinary committees, however, hold little legal punitive power. Point in case, are the actions taken by Occidental College in Los Angeles in 2010.  A freshman was raped on two separate occasions by an acquaintance. The student brought her complaint before the disciplinary committee. The assailant was found responsible, punishable by expulsion from school (Goldberg, 2014). 

Harsh Facts

In 2012, there were 11 student related sexual assaults at the University of Montana at Missoula (Hays, 2012). This prompted the Department of Justice to open a civil investigation into the more than 80 reported cases of sexual assault reported over the previous three year period.  The publicity brought attention to Title IX and the Clery Act, renewing compliance by colleges. However, colleges continued to struggle with internal policy surrounding sexual assaults (Krebs, Lindquist, Warner, Fisher, & Martin, 2007).

In January of 2014, President Obama created a task force to investigate the state of college sexual assaults. The findings were published in April of 2014. The task force identified the need to improve school response policies. Following the release of the task force recommendations, the White House published a statement naming 55 colleges under investigation for questionable handling of sexual assault cases (Gray, 2014). 

According to the White House Study (Krebs et al., 2007), a woman entering college has a 20% chance of being sexually assaulted. Krebs et al. (2007) estimate that 75-85% of cases are perpetrated by an acquaintance, friend, or (ex) boyfriend. In the case at Occidental College, drinking was involved and the perpetrator was a friend (Goldberg, 2014). The victim did not report the crime until a friend convinced her that a crime had been committed. Vanderbilt’s recent case also went unreported initially. The victim admitted to drinking with friends including one of the perpetrators whom she had dated (Barchenger & Walker, 2015). 

Effects on Women

Sexual assault on college women, whether adjudicated or not, affects a wide range of domains. Jordan (2014) points out the large scale impact of choosing whether or not to be enrolled in college. The smaller domains can also have large impact which may greatly affect the development of young women. For instance, a victim may be less likely to participate in campus organizations and more hesitate to socialize with new friends. In addition, her perceived safety may change whether she walks to the library or joins study groups at night greatly changing her college educational experience.  

Mental health costs are high as well. A national study (Kilpatrick et al., 2007) of victimized college women revealed 12% of the sample met criteria for posttraumatic stress disorder, 31% met criteria for depression, and 20% reported alcohol or drug abuse.  The study also reported that victims of drug/alcohol or incapacitated rape were twice as likely to experience substance abuse problems, as were victims of forcible rape. 

In the end...

One day after the jury leveed, their verdict on the Vanderbilt campus rape Dockerman (2015) publish an article and accompanying video highlighting the College disciplinary system.  In the video, Emma S. described her rape at Columbia University. Three cases were filed on the same perpetrator. The Columbia disciplinary committee treated each case separately rather than treat this as a serial rapist. The outcome was a dismissal of the cases because there was “not enough evidence to determine that it was more likely than not that the respondent engaged in behavior that meant the definition of sexual assault”. The perpetrator is still a student at Columbia. Emma commented that she and her (serial) rapist will graduate next year with the same Ivy League education, yet she spent the majority of her time at Columbia afraid to leave her dorm. 


Barchenger. S. & Walker. G (2015, January 28). Vanderbilt rape trial: Defendants found guilty on all charges. The Tennessean. Retrieved from 

Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Statistics Act, codified as 20 U.S.C. § 1092.

Dockerman, E. (2015). The Vanderbilt rape case will change the way victims feel about the courts. Time. Retrieved from 

Goldberg, M. (2014). Campus rape crisis. (Cover story). Nation, 298(26), 12-16.

Gray, E. (2014). The college town of Missoula, Mont (Cover story). Time, 183(20), 20-27.

Jordan, C. E. (2014). The Safety of Women on College Campuses: Implications of Evolving Paradigms in Postsecondary Education. Trauma, Violence & Abuse, 15(3), 143-148. doi:10.1177/1524838014520635

Kilpatrick, D.G., Resnick, H.S., Ruggiero, K.J., Conoscenti, L.M., & McCauley, J. (2007). Drug-facilitated, incapacitated, and forcible rape: a national study. Available at: Accessed January 30, 2015.

Krebs, C.P., Lindquist, C.H., Warner, T.D., Fisher, B.S., & Martin, S.L. (2007). The Campus Sexual Assault (CSA) Study. Washington, DC: National Institute of Justice, U.S. Department of Justice.; Krebs, C.P., Lindquist, C.H., Warner, T.D., Fisher, B.S., & Martin, S.L. (2009). College Women’s Experiences with Physically Forced, Alcohol- or Other Drug-Enabled, and Drug-Facilitated Sexual Assault Before and Since Entering College. Journal of American College Health, 57(6), 639-647.

Title IX United States Education Amendments of 1972, Pub. L. 92‑318, 86 Stat. 235, codified as 20 U.S. Code § 1681 

Zinzow, H. M., Amstadter, A. B., McCauley, J. L., Ruggiero, K. J., Resnick, H. S., & Kilpatrick, D. G. (2011). Self-rated Health in Relation to Rape and Mental Health Disorders in a National Sample of College Women. Journal of American College Health, 59(7), 588-594.



About the Author

Dr. Amy Berwick Dr. Amy Berwick, PhD, LPC, NCC

Does life feel like a struggle? It is quite normal to experience feelings of anger, sadness, fear and emptiness, but sometimes feelings can become overpowering. Counseling can help you find relief and get back on track. Call today to schedule an appointment.

Dr. Amy Berwick can be found at
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