Budd, K .M, Rocque, M., & Bierie, D. M. (2017). Deconstructing Incidents of Campus Sexual Assault: Comparing Male and Female Victimizations. Sexual Abuse. iFirst.
Research on campus sexual assault (CSA) has almost exclusively drawn on self-report data, examined undergraduates (i.e., students aged 18-24), and focused on female victimization. The few studies which included male CSA victims generally had fewer than 100 male subjects, which makes important statistical analyses difficult. To build upon prior literature and expand knowledge on male CSA victimization, we analyzed more than 5,000 incidents of CSA that were reported to police from across the United States using National Incident-Based Reporting System data (NIBRS; 1993-2014). We expanded victim age ranges to include those 17 to 32 years old and investigated more male CSA victimizations than prior work to date, approximately 350 incidents. Comparisons of male victim versus female victim CSA incidents, estimated via multivariate logistic regression, revealed several important patterns. Although both male and female victims were approximately 19 years old on average, perpetrators who assaulted females tended to be 23 years old while those assaulting males were on average 29. While 1% of CSA perpetrators offending against female victims were themselves female, 17% of perpetrators offending against male victims were female. Finally, CSA incidents with male victims were more likely to include multiple offenders, but less likely to involve stranger or Black perpetrators and also less likely to result in injuries relative to CSA incidents with female victims. Implications are discussed in terms of policing practices, and we pose new questions to the field regarding the study and prevention of CSA.
Could you talk us through where the idea for the research came from?
The idea for this project emerged from two recent events. The first was a high-profile sexual assault from 2015 that was reported broadly in the press. In brief, a student at an Ivy League school was convicted of three felony counts of sexual assault committed against an intoxicated and unconscious female student on campus. Two courageous and fast thinking graduate students stopped the assault, apprehended the perpetrator, and then held him as they waited for law enforcement. Knowing we had published on sexual assault, friends and colleagues asked us whether this type of sexual assault was rare or common on college campuses. In short, we did not know the answer. Although the victimization of college students is frequently studied, we noted only a small number of studies had isolated and focused on the campus setting itself in relation to sexual assault.
The second event was a realization which came from casual conversations we had with other researchers. Some colleagues mentioned they had uncovered a substantial number of female offenders in their studies of campus sexual assault (CSA). However, each researcher also said something akin to “but we never reported those findings.” One reason for their omission(s) was that this finding was atypical (i.e., no other study had reported such a pattern) so each presumed it must be a statistical anomaly. There was also concern that emphasizing female CSA offenders in reports could distract policymakers from male-on-female sexual assaults or even lead to backlash (i.e., given society’s resistance to recognize that females do sexually offend). However, because we had heard this from multiple researchers, we were in a unique position to realize that this likely was not an anomaly at all.
We pondered and discussed these two distinct events while working on other projects. After seeing the call for the special issue in Sexual Abuse about institutions in relation to sexual assault, we knew we had a great opportunity to move beyond discussion and really dig in on CSA by focusing on the campus location itself. We used the National Incident-Based Reporting System data (also referred to as the “NIBRS”) for a few reasons: (a) it had a clean measure of location, college and university, (b) it drew data from a large number of states and over many years, and (c) it had a relatively large sample size to use. We then contacted Michael Rocque, a fellow colleague, who had some experience thinking about crime within school contexts. He agreed to join the project. This led us to our next challenge: designing the study itself.
What kinds of challenges did you face throughout the process?
In regard to the research process, we wanted to ensure that we had strong logical arguments that supported using the NIBRS data. Given that most sexual assault is vastly underreported, and that the NIBRS data are based on police reports, we had to think through how the NIBRS data added to the discussion on CSA. Ultimately, we decided it had unique strengths, such as the ability to speak directly to a subset of cases that law enforcement and university officials would respond to.
A related challenge with the NIBRS was that although we wanted to explore different university roles (e.g., student, teaching assistant, professor, coach) in relation to CSA, we could not. While the NIBRS data provide more than 20 victim-offender relationships, our “ideal” relationships were not included. Therefore, we began to shift toward age as inherently interesting and also, perhaps, a proxy for these other roles. Hence, we did a lot of investigating in regard to college populations (e.g., graduate and undergraduate) and how they have changed over time (e.g., sociodemographics, like minimum and maximum age of entry into college, average age of graduate students, and so on). We also investigated retirement age for faculty. This research on age was an important facet that laid the groundwork for the study. With that said, we knew we had to be inherently mindful about our language-use in the manuscript to ensure we did not suggest age reflected roles and relationships that we simply could not measure and analyze.
We also faced challenges that many other collaborators face. Two of us work in academia and the other in federal law enforcement. Given our different obligations and workloads, many drafts were shared over evenings and weekends. We also have three unique perspectives that span from translational criminology to sociology of law to criminological theory and neuroscience. We debated language often and constantly re-wrote each other’s work. This was a challenge, but also a strength. It maximized the number of ideas both analytically and in terms of communicating those ideas in a way each other could understand.
What do you believe to be to be the main things that you have learnt about campus sexual assault?
Our study specifically examined differences between male and female victims of CSA. For a variety of reasons, CSA studies have focused almost exclusively on female victims. In addition, most previous research has used survey approaches, given the known underreporting with sexual assault in general and even more so on college campuses. Our use of the NIBRS over an extended period of time allowed us to obtain a sizeable sample of events to specifically compare males to females. This comparison research had rarely been done due to small sample sizes of male victims of CSA.
We learned that when males were victims in CSA incidents, they were more likely to be victimized by older perpetrators. Given the focus on undergraduates and sexual victimization, our expanded age range made it possible to see, that at least for reported incidents of CSA against male victims, while on average male victims were 19-years-old, perpetrators were on average 10 years older. Although female victims were also on average 19-years-old, their offenders were on average only a few years older. In addition, we found that while males were the most likely perpetrator of both males and female victims in CSA incidents, females were the perpetrators of male victims 17% of the time.
So, given our conversations with other colleagues about female perpetrators of CSA, these findings in particular were something important that we learned and could disseminate to academics, law enforcement, school administrators, and the like.
Another important thing we learned, or had reinforced, was that it is really important to identify and then challenge methodological or theoretical assumptions pervasive in a field of study. We learned a great deal, and offered new facts and puzzles to the field, because of the inclusion of male victims, female offenders, and considering those below age 18 and above age 22.
Now that you’ve published the article, what are some implications for practitioners?
We believe an implication of our work is that school officials need to recognize that males are victims of sexual assault a non-trivial amount of time. Since our data relied on reported events, it is likely that there are even more unreported male victims that are in need of attention. Prevention and response programming on campuses need to ensure that prevention services are targeted toward female victims and male perpetrators, but also targeted toward male victims and female offenders.
Second, practitioners need to pay attention to the differences in CSA between female and male victims, including age of perpetrator--that the average age for the perpetrators of male victims was 29 indicates there may be a different sort of relationship than the standard party/hook up culture that has been the focus of much work on CSA. In addition, a non-trivial percentage of males were victimized by females, which is an overlooked area of potential intervention.