Childhood traumatic experiences have been faced as a pervasive social issue that leads to potentially long-lasting consequences, such as sexual harassment. Previous studies have demonstrated the significant relationships between childhood sexual abuse and adult sexual harassment; yet little research has been done to identify the influence of childhood online harassment on subsequent campus sexual assault in college students. This study aims to explore whether the relationships between childhood online harassment and campus sexual assault experiences differ between male and female students in college history and whether the moderating effects of parental monitoring and peer association differ on the relationships between male and female students.
For this study, a retrospective online survey was conducted among a random sample of 356 college students aged 19-25 (108 males and 248 females) in two large public universities in Florida. The sample consisted of 69.7% females, 56.5% non-Hispanic Whites, 11.5% sexual minorities including gay/lesbian, bisexual, and prefer not to specify, and 35.6% income-based grant receipt. The mean age of the sample was 20.7 years (SD=1.29). To test research hypotheses, the validated scales, such as childhood online harassment (9 items) as the independent variable, parental monitoring (6 items) and deviant peer association (12 items) as moderators, and college sexual assault (8 items) as the dependent variable were used with confounding variables. Chi-square and t-test analyses were conducted to compare the estimates of the variables between male and female students. Zero-inflated Poisson regression analyses were also performed to test the hypotheses.
Results indicated that female students reported more childhood online harassment and college sexual assault than male counterparts. Childhood online harassment increased the incidents of college assault for both males and females. Compared to heterosexual/straight males, gay/homosexual males had higher incidents of sexual assault experiences, while no significant relationship was found for females. Females who were a recipient of income-based grants and spent more time online were more likely to experience sexual assault. The results for moderating effects of parent and peer factors indicated that parental monitoring buffered against the positive relationship between childhood online harassment and sexual assault among female students only, while deviant peer association escalated the magnitude of the relationship. However, no moderating effect of parent and peer factors on the relationship has been found among male students.
Conclusions and Implications:
Findings from this study showed gender differences in the effects of sexual orientation, race/ethnicity and income-based grant on college sexual assault and the moderating roles of parental monitoring and deviant peer association on the relationship between childhood online harassment and college sexual assault. This study implies that a gender-specific approach can play crucial roles to explain the paradox of sexual harassment. Also, childhood online harassment is a traumatic experience that can significantly impact the future of victims unless otherwise combatted by peer support and parental monitoring. Insights gained from the current findings could shed light on specific intervention strategies for men and women that address gender-specific mechanisms between online harassment and sexual assault behaviors.