U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs; National Institute of Justice The Research, Development, and Evaluation Agency of the U.S. Department of Justice U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice ProgramsNational Institute of JusticeThe Research, Development, and Evaluation Agency of the U.S. Department of Justice

Two-Part Interview with Christopher Krebs on Campus Sexual Assault

  1. Drugs and Sexual Assault on College Campuses
  2. Risk and Prevention on Campus

Part 1: Drugs and Sexual Assault on College Campuses

Thomas Feucht: Hi, Chris. I’m glad you could take time to be with us today. Tell us a little bit about this study on campus sexual assault and drug-facilitated sexual assault.

Christopher Krebs: Sure, thank you for having me. We conducted the campus sexual assault study for NIJ and our intention was to collect data on the prevalence and nature of different types of sexual assault on college campuses. And when I say different types of sexual assault, what I’m referring to are different modes, different tactics used by perpetrators to sexually victimize women. Sometimes women are physically forced and sometimes they’re sexually assaulted when they are incapacitated and unable to provide consent.

We conducted a Web-based survey with these samples of women. We choose the Web-based survey methodology because it’s an incredibly efficient way to collect data. This is a very Internet-savvy population who’s comfortable entering information in this way. And it also afforded respondents a completely anonymous and private survey environment, which we know improves the quality and validity and honesty of responses. So we feel very good about that methodology.

Thomas Feucht: And what were the results from the study? What kind of things did you find out?

Christopher Krebs: We found that sexual assault when women are incapacitated and unable to provide consent is the most common type of sexual assault. About 11 percent of the women in our sample were victims of incapacitated sexual assault. About 5 percent of the women in our sample were victims of physically forced sexual assault, so they were physically forced or threatened with force into having unwanted sexual contact. We also asked about this concept of drug-facilitated sexual assault, which is when a woman is sexually assaulted when she’s incapacitated after having been given a drug without her knowledge or consent. And we found that this type of sexual assault was relativity rare—less than 1 percent of our sample, or 31 women in our sample, were victims of drug-facilitated sexual assault.

Thomas Feucht: Those sound like small numbers. We hear an awful lot about sexual assault and drug-facilitated rape. Do these numbers surprise you or are they square with what the research to date has said?

Christopher Krebs: You’re right. We do hear a lot about drug-facilitated sexual assault, and I think possibly because of the media attention that’s been directed towards it and there certainly have been some high-profile cases. I won’t say that it surprises me, but it certainly has surprised some people who are interested in the issue.

 One interesting fact is that we found that a fairly large proportion of our women, 5.3 percent of the women in our study, had been given a drug without their knowledge or consent at some point since entering college. But the reality is that very few of those women were subsequently sexually assaulted. So, clearly, women being given a drug without their knowledge or consent does happen on college campuses and I think that we should all be concerned about that. But I think the reality is that actually instances of drug-facilitated sexual assault, although they do happen, continue to be relatively rare.

Thomas Feucht: Chris, these are interesting results. In general, when we think about crime and being at risk, we often feel most at risk and most ill at ease when we’re in circumstances that are unfamiliar to us or in situations or with people that are strangers to us. This doesn’t sound like what’s happening in terms of campus sexual assault?

Christopher Krebs: You’re exactly right. Our data suggest that a lot of sexual assaults happen at parties. A lot of the victims of sexual assault are victimized by people who they know. These sexual assaults seem to often happen in social situations where alcohol is being consumed and where people are seemingly comfortable with who they’re around and their surroundings.

Thomas Feucht: The victims surrounded by people that they know and that they are familiar with?

Christopher Krebs: Yes, that certainly seems to be the case.

Thomas Feucht: We’re both fathers. We both got daughters. What do you want to see happen on college campuses? What should students and faculty and campus administrators know about this, or do about this, to keep women safer?

Christopher Krebs: I think that’s an excellent question. And I think there’s lot already being done. But certainly I think that more can be done.

First, I think a point worth mentioning is that perhaps college is too late. Some of the data that we collected show us that a large proportion of these women who were sexually victimized were sexually victimized before they ever got to college. And we also find that women who were sexually victimized before college were much more likely to be sexually victimized during college. So there is a real pattern of re-victimization here.

So certainly, I think a lot more needs to be done even before men and women get to college, in terms of educating them about sexual assault and how to avoid being a victim or a perpetrator for that matter. Because as we educate student about sexual victimization and what the consequences of sexual victimization may be and what the risk factors may be, we are educating women who may be victims in the future and, therefore, may know how to respond and what to do. But we are also educating their friends and we think those friends present a real opportunity to work with victims when they find out about sexual victimization and can talk to them about what resources are available and what they can do to seek services. Because we know that the consequences for sexual assault can be very serious. Physically, certainly emotionally and mentally, and those consequences can be short-term and long-term. And if reaching out to peers of sexual assault victims is one way to get them needed services, we think that is an important opportunity for campuses to capitalize upon.

But as far as what colleges can do, I certainly think more can be done to educate men and women about the dangers of alcohol. The link between alcohol and the risk for sexual assault are pretty overwhelming and undeniable, according to our data. Other researchers have found the same thing, but it really is an unbelievable relationship between consuming alcohol and the likelihood of being sexually victimized. So I certainly think any sexually assault prevention messages have to include a lot of discussion about the dangers of alcohol and consuming alcohol to excess.

I also think it’s very important that sexual assault prevention messages be delivered early in the college career of students. Because our data suggests that freshman and sophomores are at greatest risk of being sexually victimized. In fact, our data even suggests that the months during which sexual assault is most likely to happen are the fall months, the beginning of the school year. So we think it’s important that sexual assault prevention message be delivered early in the students’ college careers. We also think that they ought to be delivered often. We don’t think this is “once and done” approach to prevention. We think it needs to be delivered throughout someone’s college career.

Thomas Feucht: Chris, it sounds like a great piece of research. We’re glad that you were able to complete the study and share the results with us here. Thanks for coming in.

Risk and Prevention on Campus

Thomas Feucht: We’re talking today with Chris Krebs, who conducted the study on campus sexual assault. And we’re particularly focusing on factors that put women at risk for sexual assault and things that can be done to effectively prevent sexual assault on campus. Chris, let’s start with risk factors. What kinds of things are putting women at risk for sexual assault on campus?

Christopher Krebs: One thing I’d like to say about risk factors for sexual assault is that we find things in our data that seem to increase the risk for sexual assault. But by no means are we suggesting that a victim is in any responsible for what happened to them. So that’s one thing I would like to say briefly before I talk about the risk factors for sexual assault.

But we found a number of things increase the risk for sexual assault for women on college campuses. One of the interesting aspects of our study is that we wanted to look at the risk factors for different types of sexual assault—physically forced sexual assault versus incapacitated sexual assault. One of the strongest risk factors for being a victim of sexual assault seems to be having already been a victim of sexual assault. And what I mean by that is that women who are sexually assaulted before coming to college were much more likely to be victims of sexual assault during college. In fact, the type of sexual assault that a woman experienced before coming to college seems to put her at risk for experiencing that same type of sexual assault during college.

So, victims of physically forced sexual assault before college were much more likely to be victims of physically forced sexual assault during college. But they were no more likely to be victims of incapacitated sexual assault during college. Similarly, women who were victims of incapacitated sexual assault before college were much more likely to be victims of incapacitated sexual assault during college.

Other things that we found to be risk factors for both types of sexual assault were having humiliated or physically hurt by a dating partner. That seemed to increase one’s risk of being a victim of sexual assault. For being a victim of incapacitated sexual assault, a lot of substance use measures seem to be risk factors; the frequency of getting drunk, the frequency of being in environments were alcohol is served seem to increase a woman’s risk of a woman being a victim of incapacitated sexual assault.

Thomas Feucht: One of the findings that you reported was the seeming rarity of drug- facilitated sexual assault where a woman is given a drug without her consent or her knowledge to facilitate sexual assault. What about the role of alcohol in sexual assault?

Christopher Krebs: The role of alcohol is tremendous. The large majority of victims of sexual assault were drinking prior to the incident. A large percentage of the perpetrators were drinking prior to the incident. In fact, a large percentage of the victims were not only drinking alcohol but drinking alcohol to excess. The large majority of victims indicated that they were drunk when the incident occurred.

So the relationship between sexual assault and alcohol consumption is undeniable and rather overwhelming. And certainly, campuses around the country recognize the dangers of alcohol and a lot of them are doing a lot to address the issue of sexual assault. But we’re not entirely convinced that enough is being done to link the two and discuss the two in context of one another. Because clearly, the relationship between consuming alcohol and the risk for sexual assault is very strong.

Thomas Feucht: So we’ve talked a lot about risk factors and victims’ experience. What can we say about messages and interventions aimed at the perpetrators, at the guys?

Christopher Krebs: I think that’s an excellent point. We often talk about risk factors for women and prevention messages that need to be aimed at women, but certainly, men have a role in this, a significant role in this. And when we talk about risk factors, we are in no way trying to imply that women are in any way responsible for what happened to them. And, in fact, we think more can be done in terms of prevention messages for men. Certainly, there are some prevention programs out there, but it’s unclear yet whether they are effective.

It’s also a little bit unclear whether men see these situations the same way as the women. Very little data has been collected from men on perpetration of sexual assault. We tried to do that on the context of the campus sexual assault study and, frankly, we don’t have much confidence in the data we collected from males. Very few of them were willing to report that they have ever sexually victimized someone and there are several possible reasons for that.

The data that we collected from men on rates of perpetration were incredibly low and there are several potential explanations for this. Either the men who participated in our study, in fact, had never actually sexual assaulted anybody. . . It’s also possible that they had sexually assaulted somebody and simply were not willing to tell us that they had. And then there is also the possibility that some of them had sexually assaulted somebody, but did not see the situation the same way and simply did not report the fact that they had done this to anyone, when, in fact, their victim may had reported that it was a sexual assault and had happened to them.

We think that educating men about sexual assault not only might make them less likely to be perpetrators of sexual assault in the future, but also helps them understand how to react to their friends who are maybe speaking about sexual assault or speaking about women in a certain way. We think men can sometimes intervene to make sure that sexual assault doesn’t happen and we think through education we can arm them with the information they that need to do so.

We think men are friends with these women and can provide a valuable resource or can provide information that women may need about understanding when they’ve been victimized and what resources might be available to them.

Thomas Feucht: Chris, what does your data say about how campuses are responding to this situation? Are they providing the kinds of programs and intervention, law enforcement investigation for these assaults when they occur?

Christopher Krebs: Well, we did not collect data from the universities. We collected data from the students. But certainly, what our data suggest is that these incidents of sexual assault are very rarely reported to any sort of authorities. The rate of reporting different types of sexual assault to either health centers or crisis centers or intervention centers of some kind are very low, well below 20 percent. And the rates of reporting to law enforcement, either on-campus or off-campus law enforcement, are even lower, below 10 percent.

So, what we know from our data is that very few of these sexual assaults even come to the attention of university administrators, crisis centers or law enforcement personnel.

One encouraging finding, we think though, is that the large majority of women who were sexually victimized did tell someone they knew, someone close to them. In most cases, a friend or a family member. And we think that presents a real opportunity because as we educate students about sexual victimization and what the consequences of sexual victimization may be and what the risk factors may be, we are educating women who may be victims in the future and therefore, may know how to respond and what to do.

But we are also educating their friends and we think those friends present a real opportunity to work with victims when they find out about sexual victimization and can talk to them about what resources are available and what they can do to seek services. Because we know the consequences for sexual assault can be very serious, physically, certainly emotionally and mentally, and those consequences can be short-term and long- term. And if reaching out to peers of sexual assault victims is one way to get them needed services, we think that is an important opportunity for campuses to capitalize on.

Thomas Feucht: Chris, who is at greatest risk for sexual assault on campuses? And what should campuses be doing to provide effective rape prevention programming?

Christopher Krebs: Our data suggest that freshman and sophomore women are at greater risk for being sexually victimized than juniors and seniors. In fact, our data even suggests that sexual assaults are most likely to occur in the fall months, in the beginning of the school year. So we think that sexual assault prevention messages need to be delivered early in the academic year as well as often. We think that it’s important that these messages be delivered through the college careers of students.

Thomas Feucht: We know that transition to college is a difficult passage and this is another way in which we see that women are going through this difficult transition into college and we need to be paying attention in those first few months.

Christopher Krebs: I think that is an excellent point. It’s an overwhelming time with a lot of pressure going on, a lot of pressure exerted socially, academically. Many of these students are living away from home for the first time and it’s an anxious time for everyone. And I think that it’s important that we all acknowledge that and recognize that and consider the fact that certainly, that there are risks for things like sexual victimization. And to the extent that we can do things that make that risk lower or prevent future sexual assaults, I think that it is important that we do so.

Thomas Feucht: Chris, where does this research lead you next? What’s sort of the next question or the next piece of research that you see following up on these issues?

Christopher Krebs: Well, we’re hopefully that some of the data we produced can be used to inform the development and implementation of sexual assault prevention strategies. Certainly, a lot is being done on college campuses all over the country, but we think that perhaps more can be done and we think that some of the data we produced is unique and can inform the development of some of those programs so that they’re more effective. So, certainly, we want to work with people who design prevention programs and help implement those programs with the idea that that will prevent sexual assault in the future or reduce its likelihood of occurring.

We also would be very interested in evaluating those programs for efficacy. We think that programming is very important, but certainly, evidence-based programming and programming that has proven to be effective is very important.

Thomas Feucht: Well, Chris, this is certainly an important study and some really important findings from this study. Thanks for taking time to talk to us about it.

Christopher Krebs: Thank you.

Date Posted: September 4, 2008