This Highly Stigmatized Group of Women Is the Most Vulnerable to Campus Sexual Assault

June 11th 2016

College campus sexual assault affects one in five undergraduate women, according to a 2007 U.S. Department of Justice study, and a new paper suggests that bisexual women are particularly vulnerable to campus sexual assault.

girl-holding-palm-in-front-of-faceBigstock/airdone - bigstockphoto.com

A study published in the journal Violence and Gender concluded that bisexual women were the most vulnerable group to sexual assault on college campuses. Among the findings:

  • Nearly two in five of bisexual women reported experiencing sexual assault in college.
  • About one in four heterosexual women reported experiencing sexual assault in college.
  • Gay and bisexual men reported experiencing sexual assault at a rate similar to that of heterosexual women.
  • Greek life was "strongly associated with higher prevalence of sexual assault for most groups of students."

Study authors Jessie Ford and José Soto-Marquez of New York University came to their conclusions after reviewing data that surveyed 21,000 students at 21 four-year college and university campuses between 2005 and 2011.

Stanford UniversityWikimedia Commons/Broken Sphere - wikimedia.org

Ford told ATTN: via email that it's possible that bisexual women reported higher levels of sexual assault because, as the report notes, due to hook up culture that is prevalent on college campuses, they may find themselves in situations where they are more vulnerable to sexual assault. She clarified that this does not in any way suggest that the women are to blame for decisions made by perpetrators:

"Other analyses with these data suggest bisexual women are more exploratory in general. They report more drug use and have gone further sexually than straight women — so one explanation is that they simply may be greater risk takers in general. By being risk takers, they may end up in situations where they are more vulnerable to sexual assault. (Of note, by saying this I am not implying in any way that women are to blame for sexual assault. Only perpetrators commit sexual assault).

"Another explanation is that once these women experience sexual assault, they are more distrustful of men and perhaps more likely to say that they are interested in women and men. This would be a case of reverse causality."

Sexual assault happens at a higher rate to bisexual people outside of college.

Ford pointed ATTN: to 2010 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that found that compared to both lesbian and heterosexual women, bisexual women are disproportionately affected by intimate partner violence, sexual violence, and stalking.

Why do gay and bisexual men report experiencing sexual assaults on par with heterosexual women?

Ford said it's possible that "anyone who is hooking up with men may have about a one in four or one in five chance of sexual assault":

"As a sociologist, I am interested in social factors that encourage sexual assault. Many feminists believe sexual assault is not about sex, it is about power. Therefore, men are more likely to assault (whether their partner is a man or woman) because doing so reinforces their social dominance. The socialization of young men, including by peer group members, really encourages appearing dominant, tough, not 'pussy whipped,' etc. This may have bad effects on anyone having sex with men."

Research shows that more people are identifying as sexually fluid, but bisexuality remains stigmatized in our culture.

Woman with hair covering her faceFlickr/Johan Larsson - flickr.com

Bisexuals were significantly less likely than gay men or lesbians to have “come out” to loved ones in their lives, according to a 2013 survey by the Pew Research Center. Fewer than 30 percent of bisexuals reported that many or all of their loved ones knew that they were bisexual. By comparison, 77 percent of gay men and 71 percent of lesbians reported that loved ones knew of their sexual orientation.

Prior to Bi Visibility Day last year, actress Evan Rachel Wood tweeted about the struggles she faced for not being "gay or straight enough" as a bisexual woman:

Share your opinion

Do you know anyone who was sexually assaulted in college?

No 38%Yes 62%