Behind the Scenes: Sexual Assault Disclosure by College Women at Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Predominantly White Institutions
By Jane E. Palmer and Noelle M. St. Vil
Little is known about sexual assault disclosure by college women at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) or how their experiences and factors associated with sexual assault disclosure compare with women attending predominantly white institutions (PWIs). As researchers who focus on interpersonal violence, we met while we were doctoral students and decided to collaborate on this project to attempt to fill this gap in existing research. Jane is a former social worker who worked with victims and perpetrators of interpersonal violence before enrolling in a Ph.D. program at American University to study institutional, community-level and legal responses to interpersonal violence. Noelle was working as a program coordinator for campus violence against women programs while finishing her Ph.D. in social work at Howard University, where she focused on black male-female relationships, including intimate partner violence. Our paper analyzes data from two studies funded by the National Institute of Justice. Researchers from RTI International conducted the Campus Sexual Assault study, which took place at two PWIs, and the Historically Black College and Universities (HBCU) Campus Sexual Assault study, which took place at four HBCUs. These studies used many of the same measures, so we merged the datasets in order to examine whether there were any differences for students at HBCUs and PWIs.
Due to the Title IX law, administrators at institutions of higher education (IHE) in the United States must promptly investigate reports of sexual assault. In addition, the Clery Act requires IHEs to publicly disclose annual sexual assault statistics. However, it is unknown whether—or how—sexual assault disclosure differs by type of IHE. This study, a secondary analysis of data collected from students at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and predominantly White institutions (PWIs), examines the role of incident, offender, and victim characteristics in whether women disclosed experiencing unwanted sexual contact (due to force or incapacitation) and to whom they disclosed, by type of IHE. Significant differences in the characteristics of their experiences and factors associated with sexual assault disclosure were found between samples of women attending HBCUs (n = 327) and PWIs (n = 760). However, as expected, the multivariate analyses indicate that factors associated with the culturally reinforced stereotype of “real rape”— that is, the use of force, presence of injuries, and perpetrators who were not an intimate partner, friend, or acquaintance—were positively associated with disclosure for both samples. Overall, the probability of disclosure was higher for sexual assault due to force than incapacitation. In addition, White students had a higher probability of disclosure than Black students for both forms of sexual assault regardless of type of IHE.