Abstract: Reporting Sexual Violence to College Officials: The Impact of Trust, Connection and Victimization on Campus Climate (Society for Social Work and Research 23rd Annual Conference - Ending Gender Based, Family and Community Violence)

Reporting Sexual Violence to College Officials: The Impact of Trust, Connection and Victimization on Campus Climate

Saturday, January 19, 2019: 10:45 AM
Union Square 16 Tower 3, 4th Floor (Hilton San Francisco)
* noted as presenting author
Sarah Dodd, MSW, PhD Student, University of Connecticut, Hartford, CT
Jenna Powers, MSW, PhD Candidate, Research Assistant,, University of Connecticut, Hartford, CT
Grace Felton, Doctoral Student, University of Connecticut
Background and Purpose: Sexual assault on college campuses has been identified as a salient social problem with broad policy and practice implications. Despite growing attention to this issue throughout the last ten years, very few survivors of sexual assault during college report their victimization to college officials or law enforcement (Fisher, Daigle, Cullen & Turner, 2003).  In this study, the effect of trust in campus officials, student connection to their campus and victimization status on the reporting climate within college communities is explored.  It is hypothesized that the higher trust and connectedness to campus that students experience, the more positive the reporting climate will be in the community and that students who have been victimized in college will experience a less favorable climate.

Methods: Data for this study was collected through administering in-person, paper surveys at one mid-sized, state university in New England throughout the fall of 2015 and spring of 2016.  A stratified sampling technique was used, whereby a proportionate number of undergraduate students were sampled from each academic department.  Participants in the study (n=793) were representative of the campus community with 13% identifying as Hispanic, 49% identifying as female and almost 8% identifying a member of the LGBTQ community.  Additionally, 8% of participants experienced sexual assault since becoming a student at the college.

Results: Hierarchical multiple regression was used to assess the ability of three control measures (Campus Connectedness Scale, Trust in College Support Systems Scale and Victimization in College Status) to predict the campus climate related to campus response to sexual assault after controlling for ethnicity, race, gender and sexual orientation.  Preliminary analysis was conducted to ensure no violation of the assumptions of normality, linearity, multicollinearity and homoscedasticity.  Ethnicity, race, gender and sexual orientation were entered at Step 1, explaining .1% of the variance in the campus climate.  After entry of victimization status, school connectedness and trust in college support systems at Step 2 the total variance explained by the model as a whole was 28.5%, F (7, 670) = 38.155, p<.001.  The three control measures explained an additional 27.8% of the variance in the climate, after controlling for ethnicity, race, gender and sexual orientation, R squared change =.278, F change (3, 670) = 88.843.  In the final model, all three control measures were statistically significant, p<.001, with Trust in College Support Systems recording the highest beta value (beta=.336, p<.001), followed by School Connectedness (beta =.256, p<.001) and finally victimization status (beta = .077, p<.05).      

 Conclusion and Implications:  Throughout the last ten years, many higher education institutions have invested increased resources in to initiatives focused on responding to and preventing sexual assault.  Findings from this study indicate that in order to improve campus culture, social work macro practitioners should consider how trust and connectedness are being cultivated, on multiple levels, throughout the campus community.  Positive interventions aimed at reinforcing the social fabric on a campus may, ultimately, support a cultural shift where survivors of violence feel empowered to report these crimes and offenders are held accountable.