By Rebecca Howard
In recent years, sexual assault on college campuses has become a topic of national conversation. Startling statistics report that one in five women will be raped during their college years. Research has shown that sexual assault has devastating effects on survivors and can affect them years after the assault. However, there is a gap in the current literature regarding how sexual assault in college affects women in terms of their educational attainment, future financial earnings and intimate relationships.
Since September 2015, I have been working in the Susan Schechter Lab at Prevention Innovations to better understand the long-term educational and economic impacts of sexual assault that occurs during a victim’s college years. Under the incredible guidance of Dr. Sharyn Potter and Dr. Sharon Murphy, I have helped to design and conduct a study to gain insight from women who experienced an assault during college. Using Amazon Mechanical Turk as well as a listserv of advocacy centers, we collected information from women across the country of all ages and backgrounds. Through surveys and phone interviews, more than one hundred participants have bravely shared their stories with us.
Over the course of this semester, I spent nearly 200 hours transcribing phone interviews in the Schechter Lab and completed this stage of the project in March. Currently, I am working with Drs. Potter and Murphy and Braxton Jones, a Graduate Assistant from the Sociology Department, to begin the qualitative analysis. We are applying the principles of Heideggerian hermenutic phenomenology to interpret each woman’s story. I am excited to continue working for Prevention Innovations over the course of the summer as we move towards completion of this study.
I have had an amazing experience working for Prevention Innovations in the Schechter Lab doing such meaningful, hands-on work. Of course, my dream is to live in a world where sexual violence is non-existent. However, if our study can help even one victim overcome the challenges they face after an assault during college, I know we have accomplished something worthwhile.
My hope is that this study will demonstrate the tremendous impact sexual assault has on all aspects of a victim’s life, not just on their current emotional state but on their education and career down the road. I hope that the more schools become aware of these impacts, the more administrators will do to fund prevention and treatment programs, as well as show more sympathy and understanding to students who have been assaulted and need time off or help with their schoolwork. I also hope that survivors who learn about this study realize they are not alone and there are places to turn to for help if you are struggling with symptoms from the trauma.
Rebecca Howard is a Masters in Justice Studies graduate student who received her B.A. in English Literature and Justice Studies from UNH in 2014 and then spent a year off from school serving in the New Hampshire Americorps Victim Assistance Program as a victim/witness advocate for the Manchester Police Department. She is passionate about social justice and hopes to continue her career in violence against women prevention.