Study: Increased Risk Of Sexual Assault, Rape In Study Abroad Programs

WASHINGTON (CBS DC) — Female undergraduates have reported a significantly increased risk of rape and sexual assault while studying abroad.

A new study published in the Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice and Policy shows that many female college students experienced increased incidents of sexual assault while in non-English-speaking countries.

The preliminary study is based off data collected from 218 female students at a single institution. Sixty of the respondents (27.5 percent) reported at least one experience of unwanted touching while abroad, 13 (6 percent) reported an attempted sexual assault (anal, oral or vaginal), and 10 (4.6 percent) reported rape.

The location and risk in comparison to their own undergraduate campus was also factored in – and the risk of rape was five times higher during a semester abroad than at their home institution. The risk of unwanted touching abroad was 4.3 times higher than on-campus rates, and sexual assault was 3.2 times higher abroad.

A lack of cultural familiarity and an increase in the presence of alcohol were also taken into account.

The study’s lead author, Matthew Kimble, an associate professor of psychology at Middlebury College, told Inside Higher Ed that he and his co-author, William F. Flack Jr., of Bucknell University theorized that increased vulnerability abroad is similar to the initial transition phase experienced when students first arrive on their own campus.

“Bill Flack and I speculated that those same risk factors that are present when they’re first on campus may be present when they go abroad: legal access to alcohol, lack of familiarity with the culture, maybe weaknesses in the language, and potentially even being seen as somewhat vulnerable within the country,” Kimble said.

The surveys of 218 students were juniors or seniors at a “selective Northeastern college” who studied abroad in the last two years. But the study authors conceded that the sample had only a small percentage that visited the most common European and Australia/New Zealand countries that most Americans visit.

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