How Faith Changes College Campus Sex Assaults

When college freshmen step on campus for the first day of school, they will be entering what experts consider the riskiest period for sexual assault, spanning from the start of the semester to Thanksgiving break.

One Christian college graduate remembers her first weeks as the time when a guy from her “brother hall” grabbed her hand and shoved it down his pants. Another met her college boyfriend early on. The relationship soon grew threatening, and he ended up raping her in a parked car. At another school, it didn’t take long into the first semester before a female student began to wonder what to do about unwanted attention from one of her professors.

Over the past year, the #MeToo movement proved harassment and rape can happen to women anywhere, but colleges have long been ground zero for America’s sexual violence epidemic.

Most evangelical schools already have policies that address the biggest risk factors: dry campuses, single-sex dormitories, codes of conduct barring sex before marriage. But recent studies suggest that the most significant disparities between Christian and public or private institutions correspond to the biblical convictions at the core of the community, from shared morality to their approach to gender roles. Faith indeed influences the rates of sexual violence on campus—mostly for better, but sometimes for worse, researchers say.

“One of the key shared ideas [at Christian schools] is that sex needs boundaries or restraint—a radically countercultural affirmation in a society where most affirm sex need have no limits if it is consensual,” wrote sociologist Jim Vanderwoerd from Redeemer University College in Ontario.

In a 2017 study, Vanderwoerd and Harvard University’s Albert Cheng found that female students at evangelical colleges in Canada fared significantly better than at secular ones, with fewer reports of unwanted sexual contact (18% compared to 21%–31%) and rape (less than 1% compared to 3%–5%). Students at Christian schools in the US also reported lower rates of such incidents in the Campus Climate Comparison Study conducted the same year.

Despite restrictions against drinking, alcohol usage remained a significant risk factor associated with sexual violence at the Christian campuses surveyed: eight schools belonging to the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) and Christian Higher Education Canada (CHEC). But the other major risk factor at secular schools—being around men in social settings—did not make female students significantly more susceptible to “unwanted sexual experiences.”

“Put simply, while on secular campuses being in the presence of males poses a sexual victimization threat for women, this appears to be less so for women on private religious campuses,” wrote Vanderwoerd in the Canadian Journal of Higher Education.

“The moral communities thesis would suggest that this is related to religious campuses creating conditions in which men and women appear to have internalized and acted upon the parameters for sexual restraint that are part of their faith’s traditions and teachings.”

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Source: Christianity Today