Abstract: Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Victimization and Help-Seeking: Comparing Commuter and Residential University Students (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Victimization and Help-Seeking: Comparing Commuter and Residential University Students

Friday, January 13, 2023
Hospitality 3 - Room 432, 4th Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Erin Casey, PhD, Professor, University of Washington, Tacoma, Tacoma, WA
Anindita Bhattacharya, PhD, MSW, Assistant Professor, University of Washington Tacoma, Tacoma, WA

While sexual misconduct response and prevention systems in higher education continue to advance, these programs are historically geared toward “traditional” students in primarily residential, 4-year campuses. Less is known about victimization patterns, or the services and prevention needs of commuter students in these institutions or of students at primarily or exclusively commuter campuses. Commuter students may be more diverse than residential students along multiple dimensions including but not limited to age, race/ethnicity, SES, parenting or employment status, and military affiliation. Thus, their victimization experiences and subsequent support needs are likely similarly unique. The purpose of this study was to inform program tailoring for commuter students by comparing rates of sexual assault and sexual harassment victimization, victimization characteristics, and post-assault help seeking across three groups of students; residential students on residential campuses, commuter students on residential campuses, and commuter students on commuter campuses.


Data are from a broad, cross-sectional climate and belonging survey implemented in a large university system inclusive of both “traditional” (mostly residential) and commuter campuses. The analyses were based on 7269 undergraduates, 23% of whom identified as underrepresented, racially minoritized students, 39% as white, 20% as Asian, Asian American, or South Asian, and 18% as multi-racial. Nearly 62% identified as women and 78% as heterosexual. Measures included brief indices of sexual assault and sexual harassment that were tailored for the survey. Offender identity, offense location, and post-assault help-seeking were also assessed. We used 2 and 3-way chi square analyses to detect differences in victimization experiences and help-seeking behavior by gender and across commuter vs. residential students on different campus types.


Students on commuter campuses reported lower rates of victimization than commuter or residential students on residential campuses. Rates of formal help-seeking were low across all students, but commuter campus students were more likely to access campus resources compared to both commuter and residential students on residential campuses (who were more likely to reach out to friends). Regardless of commuter status, students on residential campuses were more likely to be assaulted in the context of the Greek system, and by acquaintances or strangers, while students on commuter campuses experienced more assaults or harassment in private residences and by current or former partners, or someone in a position of authority. Experiencing sexual harassment was more predictive of intentions to leave the institution among commuter students on both commuter and residential campuses than among residential students.


Findings suggest that victimization experiences differ significantly by type of campus, and that prevention and response services for commuter students need to address off-campus victimization in the context of their private lives to a greater degree. In contrast, more work to make formal sources of support accessible to residential students may be needed; commuter students’ greater willingness to access formal systems may provide instructive insight into enhancing service accessibility. Commuter students on both commuter and residential campuses may be particularly vulnerable to victimization-related interruptions in their academic careers, requiring additional tailored services to simultaneously address their unique post-victimization and academic needs.