By Margaret Campe
2019 Lindsey M. Bonistall Research Fellow
For the past ten years Margaret Campe has been working to prevent and respond to violence against women through her academic and professional endeavors. Margaret earned her Master of Arts in Criminology from the University of Minnesota in 2010. Afterwards, she spent five years working under two different Department of Justice Offices for Research on Violence Against Women Grants in Oregon and Minnesota aimed at improving community response and prevention of violence against women.
In 2015, Margaret moved to the University of Kentucky to pursue her PhD in Sociology focusing again on prevention and intervention of violence against women. Margaret is using the Lindsey M. Bonistall Research Fellowship Award to enhance her dissertation research which is focused on gleaning a more nuanced understanding of risk and protective factors related to college campus sexual assault. Margaret’s intent with her research is to provide tangible policy recommendations for prevention and intervention of college campus sexual violence.
Margaret's research was recently published in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence and she was invited to presented her research for the Disability Division of The Society for the Study of Social Problems.
The #MeToo movement has provided momentum for bringing the topic of sexual assault and sexual harassment into the public discourse. The potency with which these topics are being discussed is heartening to those who have been working to uncover, prevent, and ultimately end gender-based violence through research, advocacy, and grassroots activism. While the broad reaching media coverage, and renewed energy to develop public policy that addresses gender-based violence seems to have gained steam within the past five years or so, the problem of sexual violence, including college campus sexual assault, is not new. In fact, there is about four decades worth of studies that have underscored college campus sexual assault as a widespread problem. Studies have shown that 1 in 5 college women will experience college campus sexual assault before their collegiate career concludes (Krebs et al., 2007).
Although twenty percent of women being sexually assaulted while in college warrants attention, there are other groups that are at even higher risk. Female students with disabilities are one such group. My recent research shows that female students with disabilities have odds 96% higher than those of female students without disabilities. That number goes up when looking at the type of sexual assault. Female students with disabilities are at 134% higher risk for experiencing a completed sexual assault, 103% higher risk for experiencing an attempted sexual assault, and 122% higher risk for experiencing a relationship sexual assault. These numbers underscore that while the largest category of students at disproportionate risk for experiencing sexual assault may be female students, female students who occupy a more marginalized identity due to their having a disability are actually at higher risk.
Disability status is a broad category, and knowing that female students with disabilities are at increased risk overall is a good start, but depending the disability the student’s lived experiences may be vastly different. I decided to breakdown the disabilities by type, and found that those with cognitive disabilities seemed to be accounting for most of the disproportionate risk among students with disabilities. However, psychiatric disabilities was the only disability type in increase risk across all types of sexual assault, completed, attempted, and relationship.
Some risk factors beyond being female are that are also frequently referenced, is alcohol consumption, substance use, and Greek involvement. As such, I wanted to explore whether or not these factors also increased risk for female students with disabilities. I found that although frequent alcohol use, binge drinking, and marijuana use did increase the risk for sexual assault of females with disabilities, it did so to a lesser extent than with female students without disabilities. This finding suggests factors that compound the risk for sexual assault in the female student population may be different for female students that also have disabilities.
So, we know that female students with disabilities are at increased risk compared to female students without, and we have a little clarity on what types of disabilities might be accounting for this, but why does it matter? After all, if prevention and intervention programming acknowledges female students overall are at increased risk, then won’t those programs also catch female students with disabilities? Well, unfortunately, we also know that people with disabilities are less likely to access advocacy resources or other services that can help with prevention education, and provide needed resources and response in the event of a sexual assault. Moreover, if those with disabilities do help-seek, they often report that services were inaccessible, or unhelpful for their needs (Hassouney-Phillips & McNeff, 2005; Milberger et al., 2003; Nosek et al., 2001; Plummer & Findley, 2012). Therefore, these female students with disabilities are more likely to fall through the cracks when it comes to prevention and intervention, as well as response. Also, we have some evidence suggesting that other risk factors for female students with disabilities may be different, and as such prevention and intervention approaches may need to be curated differently.
My research suggests that campus resource offices, specifically disability resource centers, counseling centers, violence prevention centers, and health and wellness centers should form partnerships to address this gap. This type of collaboration could increase the chances that students with disabilities who are victims of sexual assault will know what resources are available or be referred to appropriate resources. In addition, working with disabilities services may help violence prevention and intervention centers or programs tailor their responses to victims with disabilities in a more helpful, appropriate, and accessible manner. Moreover, the chances that spreading prevention resources and crafting prevention education such that it reaches students with disabilities, may be increased through these types of partnerships.
The increased energy around the topic of sexual violence is encouraging, but asking critical questions about which people are being studied, and whose assaults are being addressed is imperative for the continued improvement of prevention and response.
For the full research paper visit: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0886260519840405. If you do not have access to this journal through your institutional affiliation, you may email Margaret for a copy.