Abstract: Campus-Level Factors That Are Associated with Increased Risk of Experiencing Sexual Assault (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

Campus-Level Factors That Are Associated with Increased Risk of Experiencing Sexual Assault

Friday, January 14, 2022
Liberty Ballroom K, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Carrie Moylan, PhD, Associate Professor, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI
McKenzie Javorka, BA, Graduate Student, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI
Rebecca Stotzer, PhD, Professor, University of Hawai'i, HI
Angie Kennedy, PhD, Associate Professor, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI
Wenjuan Ma, PhD, Continuing Specialist- Research, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI
Background and Purpose: Sexual assault is a frequent occurrence on college campuses, with around 20% of undergraduate women experiencing assault during their time on campus. Prevalence rates, however, vary widely across campuses, suggesting that different campus environments might exacerbate or mitigate risk. Despite growing evidence about the importance of campus climate, little is known about how specific campus-level factors might influence the likelihood of a student experiencing sexual assault. In this study, we explore whether campus-level factors are associated with students’ experiences of sexual assault even when controlling for individual-level risk and protective factors.

Method: We used data from the National College Health Assessment (NCHA), a health and wellness survey administered to students on over a hundred campuses every year. The data set contained information from 341848 students on 474 campuses from Spring 2011 to Fall 2015. We used variables at the student level, including gender, sexual orientation, race, whether or not the student lived on campus, and behavioral characteristics such as engaging in binge drinking. At the campus level we included variables capturing institutional characteristics (e.g., four year or two year institution, religious affiliation), student body demographics (such as the diversity relative to race and sexual orientation), and student behavioral characteristics (e.g., percentage of students who engaged in binge drinking). Students in this dataset were nested within schools. Thus, to accommodate the interdependence among the students we ran a series of mixed-effect models. We gradually removed variables from the models which were less central theoretically and not statistically significant. By comparing the models using receiver operating characteristic (ROC) curves we identified the campus-level variables that were associated with experiences of sexual assault, controlling for student demographic and behavioral characteristics.

Results: A number of variables at the individual level were associated with increased risk of sexual assault, including being a woman, transgender, bisexual, younger living on campus, or engaging in binge drinking. After accounting for student level risk and protective factors, being on a smaller campus, a campus with more sexual orientation and gender diversity, and a campus with lower levels of discrimination was associated with a lower likelihood of having been sexually assaulted.

Conclusions: This study contributes to a small but growing body of research that explores campus variation in sexual and intimate partner violence. These findings are important because they highlight how campus environments can create or limit risk for students above and beyond student-level factors. This highlights the importance of developing prevention strategies that target campus climate and institutional-level factors, in addition to the current prevention strategies that primarily target individual behavior change.