A recent study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health found that both female and male college students are equally likely to be victims of physical or emotional violence.
The study surveyed students who sought treatment at health clinics in 2006-2007 at five universities in Wisconsin, Seattle and Vancouver. The results indicated that 17 percent of men and 16 percent of women reported experiencing violence within the past six months.
However, the type of violence students encountered did differ by gender, with men more likely to suffer physical violence, and women more likely to suffer emotional violence, which was defined as “repeated ridicule, threatening statements, destroying belongings and unreasonable jealousy.”
Women were also more likely to experience violence at the hands of a family member, while men generally encountered violence through friends, roommates, acquaintances, strangers and supervisors.
More than 40 percent of both male and female students said they were dating or romantically involved with the perpetrators.
“[We] found that of those who experienced violence, the rates of emotional violence by intimate partners was the same for men and for women,” said Elizabeth M. Saewyc, lead researcher and a nursing professor at the University of British Columbia. “That’s not something that is commonly known – people don’t generally see that.”
Alcohol was also a significant factor in the reports. More than a third of students stated that they had been drinking when the emotional violence occurred, and more than half said alcohol was involved when the physical violence occurred.
Peg Swain, director of the UC Davis Women’s Resources and Research Center, called the findings interesting, but questioned the lack of a distinction between sexual and non-sexual assaults.
The study’s failure to differentiate between victims of sexual and non-sexual violence was also problematic for Claire Robbins, a doctoral student at the University of Maryland, who posted a comment on the online article.
“One of the most pernicious forms of violence college students experience is sexual assault – which is not even mentioned in this article,” said Robbins.
“Sexual assault is the most underreported violent crime in the United States,” Robbins said. “As few as one in 10 sexual assaults will be reported. Because this study looked only at violence reported to college health centers, sexual violence is sure to be underrepresented.”
Swain echoed this sentiment.
“There is always a disparity between the number of people who are affected and the number who report a crime – it depends on the kind of violence, the circumstances, the community.”
UC Davis, for example, has recently been under scrutiny for an apparent rise in sexual violence on campus. Swain said this was due to improvements in reporting rather than a real increase in sexual violence.
This study raises many questions of whether violence at universities is really gender specific, though many assert that more research needs to be done to confirm these results.
SARAH HANSEL can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.