College Students Think New Law is Good for Sexual Assault Victims, Research Finds

Jun 1, 2016

A Virginia law requires school officials to report anything suspicious related to sexual assault.
Credit Theud-bald/Flickr

Only 1 in 3 victims of sexual violence end up reporting their assault to authorities. That number is even lower on college campuses where it's 1 in 5.

One researcher at Virginia Commonwealth University is working to figure out if a new state law helps or hurts. 

Virginia is one of only a handful of states with a mandatory reporting law related to colleges, and it's only been in place for a year. It requires college professors and administrators to report any suspicious sexual activity that's told to them by students, even if it's been told in confidence.

"If they say 'I was at a party last night Dr. Mancini and this happened to me, I think I was sexually assaulted.' Even if they're not 100-percent sure, I would have a legal and ethical obligation to report this offense," says Dr. Christina Mancini. 

Christina Mancini, associate professor at VCU's Wilder School.

    

Mancini is a professor and researcher at VCU. She explains the law obligates her, administrators, and any college staff to report possible offenses to the school's Title IX coordinator. Policies can vary from school to school, but at VCU professors now put a warning on their syllabi. 

Mancini surveyed students to learn how they felt about the policy. Her researcher shows they overwhelmingly supported it.

"Most also indicated that this would increase their propensity to report, which is  a good thing," says Mancini.

But Mancini also found that many students thought the policy could possibly hurt victims, re-traumatizing them or making them feel like they are losing control of the process.

Mancini says while the law is well-intentioned, the verdict is still out on whether it works. She hopes more research like hers can help provide a final ruling.

Mancini and her colleagues hope to look next at faculty perspectives on the policy, and whether it's regularly followed.