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MU researcher calls for increase in sexual assault awareness programs on college campuses

COLUMBIA, Mo. The statistics for sexual assault are unsettling; the Department of Justice reports that one in five college women will be the victim of attempted or actual sexual assault during their college years. In a new study, researchers from two universities, including the University of Missouri, have found that college women often are unaware of drug-facilitated sexual assault and fail to recognize the risk of certain behaviors, including leaving drinks unattended.

"These findings are very concerning; although college women appear to have knowledge about date-rape drugs, they often are not able to apply this knowledge in the appropriate context," said Zachary Birchmeier, senior research analyst in the University of Missouri Truman School of Public Affairs. "Considering the high rates of sexual assault, it is clear there is an urgent need to better inform students about self-protection. Education and prevention efforts should focus on debunking rape myths and increasing awareness of drug-facilitated sexual assault."

In the study, conducted at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, more than 400 female undergraduates rated their perceptions of risk after reading a short story about an acquaintance rape. The researchers, including Emily Crawford, primary investigator of the study at Miami University, evaluated the relationship among risk factors that may increase victims' susceptibility to sexual assault, including prior victimization, behavioral choices and risk perception in responding to the threat of drug-facilitated sexual assault. They measured awareness of risk in accepting drinks from male acquaintances and leaving drinks unattended. Other researchers have not thoroughly investigated these issues.

The researchers found that college students identified the risk associated with having others pour their drinks; however, they did not recognize the risk of leaving their drinks unattended. A significant number of study participants blamed the victim when sexual assault occurred. Additionally, the majority of participants who were victims of previous sexual assault reported that they would make risky choices, including accepting a male acquaintance's offer to help them into their bedroom.

"The findings suggest that many incidents of drugging may be unreported or unsuspected," said Crawford, postdoctoral resident in behavioral health at the Harry S. Truman Memorial Veterans Hospital. "College students are likely to associate symptoms of nausea, blurred vision and lack of coordination with drinking too much alcohol, rather than suspect that another drug was unknowingly consumed."

At MU, several programs educate students about the dangers of date-rape drugs and sexual assault. The Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention (RSVP) Center is a comprehensive relationship and sexual-violence education service. The resource center, in collaboration with the MU Women's Center, is driven by the work of four dedicated student organizations: the RSVP Peer Educators, the Greek Advocates, STARS (Stronger Together Against Relationship and Sexual Violence), and MARS (Men Against Relationship & Sexual Violence).

The RSVP Center offers outreach programs for residence halls, fraternities and sororities, classes and community organizations about topics, including rape and sexual violence. RSVP Peer Educators receive training on sexual assault, rape, intimate partner violence, and stalking. They use these skills to educate their peers through programs about issues related to relationship and sexual violence.

"We understand the need for all people to be aware of the potential of drug-facilitated rape and that college-aged women are a vulnerable population," said Sharon Giles, Coordinator of the Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention Center at MU. "The RSVP center educates MU students about prevention by implementing systemic or community-wide change in creating a campus climate that does not tolerate rape/sexual assault. Our educational efforts focus on the fact that sexual violence on a college campus is not just the survivors' problem, but is the problem of the campus as a whole."


Contact: Emily Smith
University of Missouri-Columbia

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