1 in 5: that’s your chance of being sexually assaulted in college

By Stephanie McClelland
May 2, 2019

Editor’s note: The names of subjects have been modified to protect their identity.

On New Year’s Eve of 2017, Jessica, a junior criminal justice major at Cabrini University, was ready to ring in the new year with some of her closest friends while visiting them at their college apartment. She was partying and having a good time with her best friend, John, whom she has known since sixth grade. While at the party she recognized one of John’s friends from the few times they’ve hung out with their mutual friends.

“We were drinking and having a good time and we had talked throughout the night,” Jessica said.

When the party began winding down Jessica went to fall asleep on the couch and told John to sleep between her and his friend.

“I didn’t know his friend that well so I wanted John to sleep in between us just for extra comfort but his friend refused to get up because he was ‘already there,’” Jessica said. “When he said that, I was like alright, fine, I kind of know him, I didn’t think anything was gonna go down, I didn’t feel unsafe.”

Jessica had been sleeping for a few hours when she was awakened by the feeling of being touched.

“I was asleep on the couch and was woken up by him trying to spoon me and I was like what the f-ck is going on? And then he started kissing my ear and then I was like I need to get off this couch ASAP so I tried to get him to stop by just trying to shift away and tell him I was sleeping,” Jessica said. “Then he just started licking my ear again and whispering in my ear that it was okay. It wasn’t until he whispered ‘Are you gonna let me under your skin’ then I said ‘I gotta pee’ and ran upstairs to the bathroom and eventually fell asleep on the floor.”

These situations are not uncommon for college age students to go through. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, “One in 5 women and one in 16 men are sexually assaulted while in college. More than 90% of sexual assault victims on college campuses do not report the assault.”

This statistic can look pretty daunting to a young woman who is about to enter college and even to the women who are already attending universities now who may fear that one day they will be the one out of five women to experience some type of sexual assault during their time at college.

What is considered “sexual assault”

Sexual assault is defined as experiencing any kind of unwanted sexual contact. This could mean rape, forcing the victim to do sexual acts or unwanted touching.

According to the American Association of Universities’  Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct, “Rather than the term sexual assault, the survey used the term non-consensual sexual contact, which included rape (oral, anal, vaginal, digital penetration) and non-consensual touching, kissing, grabbing, groping, and rubbing in a sexual way. The survey investigated four tactics used to accomplish sexual assault, including physical force or a threat of physical force, incapacitation, coercion (non-physical threats or promise of rewards), and absence of affirmative consent.”

A lot of people, when they are being sexually assaulted, may not even realize exactly what’s happening; a lot of the time they just know that they are uncomfortable and something may seem wrong.


According to William R. Beaver, Ph.D, a sociology professor at Robert Morris University, “The National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) is administered by the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics and is based on a nationally representative sample. The survey dates back to 1972 and was developed in part to address the under-reporting of crime. The NCVS covers not only rape and sexual assault but also other crimes such as robbery, theft, burglary, and physical assaults and has a response rate of 74 percent.”

Why not just report it?

“I felt violated and I cleaned my earrings the next morning. I was embarrassed to tell John because I knew that it was his friend and I wasn’t sure if he was gonna believe me and I didn’t want to ruin their friendship,” Jessica said. “I remember that in the morning I told my friend Hannah. I didn’t want to tell John at first because I didn’t want to speak badly of his friend. I eventually told him but I don’t think he ever said anything to his friend.”

It is not uncommon for people to not report sexual assault or harassment especially on college campuses because not only is it more likely to be assaulted by someone you know and probably have to see a lot around school but a lot of the time victims blame themselves and make themselves feel guilty or like it is their fault when in reality that is just not the case. Victims of sexual assault also often feel embarrassed to tell anybody because they feel violated and vulnerable already.

Data from the NCVS reveal at least 80 percent of rapes and sexual assaults are not reported. Many suggestions have been made over the years about ways of encouraging more reporting. However, when one considers that the persons involved usually know each other and that there is embarrassment and some confusion about whether a given act constitutes an assault,” Beaver said.

“I know that a lot of people don’t report sexual assault because they feel embarrassed.  They see these people a lot, since it’s usually someone you know and they don’t want to be thought of as a victim or they might blame themselves and feel guilty.” said Jessica, “I had known him for a while and he had never been weird to me or made any advances toward me before that night.”

Those who have been a victim of sexual assault or harassment must remember that it is not their fault and they shouldn’t feel guilty or ashamed or embarrassed about what happened. It is important to speak up and report these incidents when they happen because it can help protect others from being assaulted by the same person or in general.


If you have been the victim of sexual assault or harassment it is encouraged that you reach out to these resources:

Public Safety

Rooymans Hall

(Next to the Library)


Open 24 hours a day, every day

Counseling and Psychological Services

Rooymans Hall Grace Hall, room 174


Sexual Assault Hotline

Call 800.656.HOPE (4673) to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.


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Stephanie McClelland

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