US college students less interested in learning about sexual assault prevention compared to other countries

Bystander attitudes towards preventing sexual assault vary depending on geographical location, according to a study recently published in the Journal of Sex Research.

Sexual assault refers to any sexual act that has been carried out without consent. According to the World Health Organization, up to 8.0% of women in 20 countries across the world do not report assault. Female college students are at a high risk of becoming a victim of sexual assault. This is because of certain features of ‘campus culture’ such as access to alcohol and drugs, being unsupervised (often for the first time) by parents or guardians and independent time management.

In this context a bystander is a witness or defender at the time of the sexual assault and research has found that bystanders can be key to preventing sexual violence. Therefore, it is crucial to educate college students about sexual assault and essentially train them to become bystanders that promote social norms, object to sexual violence and intervene to help victims in potentially dangerous situations.

Bystander training programs are currently proving to be successful in the USA, and a drop in on-campus sexual assaults has been observed. However, there is limited knowledge of bystander attitudes in other cultures.

The study conducted by a team led by Akiko Kamimura (University of Utah), collected data from 1,136 students from two universities in Japan and one university each in the USA, India, Vietnam and China.

The results of the study varied across the different locations. Compared to the USA, the rest of the countries (Japan, India, China and Vietnam) took more interest in learning about sexual assault and believed that sexual assault taking place on campus was a big problem. This could be due to a focus on group wellbeing in collectivist cultures such as China and Vietnam.

It was also found that females believed sexual assault on campus was a bigger issue, compared to males. But, people who knew someone who has been sexually assaulted were more open to helping a friend who was at risk of being sexually assaulted.

The overall result proves inconsistencies in the belief that sexual assault is a real issue on campuses. The authors report ‘most students do not think of the university as the first resource for the prevention of sexual assault or help after a sexual assault’. This highlights the need for universities to promote themselves as a support system for students who have been a victim of sexual assault.