Here’s what parents should know about COVID and campus sexual violence

College undergrads go through a lot – they’re expected to excel academically, decide on their career, establish new friendships and romantic relationships, and learn to live away from home for the very first time. It can be totally overwhelming – and that’s without a pandemic. This past year, forty-two percent of students said staying motivated to do well once courses moved online was a major problem for them. And record levels of depression and anxiety hit students, with three out of four Americans between the ages of 18 and 24 reporting poor mental health tied to the pandemic according to the CDC.

However, little has been discussed of the pandemic’s impact on student victims of sexual violence. 

Campus sexual violence is nothing new. Around 19% of women will be sexually assaulted during their time at college (RAINN). But student victims were impacted in new ways by the pandemic as it became increasingly difficult to receive adequate support and mental health services. With college campuses enforcing social distancing guidelines using single occupancy rooms and quarantines, campus counseling services taking place remotely, and campus organizations inactive, the pandemic left victims more isolated than ever.

In fact, pandemic precautions created the type environment in which campus sexual violence thrives.

An article in Ms. Magazine from May 2020 warned that “Although campuses have largely closed to protect students from COVID-19, many who cannot easily return home or are locked into an apartment lease are still living on- and off-campus. A lack of on-campus resources—coupled with new limitations on how and where people can socialize—may heighten these students’ risk for sexual victimization.” It went on, “A significant proportion of college student rape occurs in rooms of private residences off-campus, where university policies related to drug and alcohol oversight have limited reach, and bystanders are often not present to intervene.


When schools fail students 

During the pandemic, it was reported that many campuses did not communicate sufficiently with students about which services were still available. Students reported inaccessible Title IX officers, stalled investigations, and unresolved claims.

But even without a pandemic many schools fail to support students who experience sexual assault and intimate partner violence at college. In their survey of more than 100 student survivors who formally reported sexual violence to their schools, Know Your IX found that 39 percent of survivors who reported sexual violence to their schools experienced a substantial disruption in their education. They found that:

  • 27 percent of survivors who reported took a leave of absence.
  • 20 percent transferred schools.
  • Nearly 10 percent dropped out of school entirely.
  • Disturbingly, 15 percent of survivors who reported to their schools were threatened with or faced punishment for coming forward. Almost 63 percent of those survivors either took a leave of absence, transferred schools, or dropped out. 

As Know Your IX explains: “These educational interruptions occur not because of sexual violence alone, but because of sexual violence exacerbated by schools’ inadequate or otherwise harmful responses to reports of violence. Survivors describe being blamed for the violence against them, being told the school could do nothing, facing name calling by school officials when seeking support, having their cases drawn out for years, and getting punished for their own assaults after seeking help.”

Online and Off 

As many students know, you don’t need to be face-to-face with a person to be victimized by them. Sexual violence on campus frequently includes digital abuse such as revenge porn, cyber stalking and harassment.

How online abuse can show up on campus:

  • Non-consensual distribution of intimate images: Widely-used Instant Messaging apps allow messages, photos, videos, and recordings to be shared widely, in real time. Sadly we often encounter recordings of a sexual nature, captured while the victim was incapacitated and distributed without her consent.
  • Harassment: Creating fake impersonating social media profiles, getting other people to cyber-bully or harass the victim through calls, texts, or social media, contacting or harassing friends or family
  • Monitoring: Demanding access to texts/emails/social media accounts, using apps to track someone
  • Extortion: Threatening to harm someone if they don’t comply with demands (e.g., sending a naked pic), threatening to ‘out’ someone’s sexuality

The Power and Control wheel is a tool used by advocates to show the ways that an abuser inflicts violence on those around them. Last year, we recreated it to show how we saw power and control being weaponized in teen dating abuse. You can check it out here.

If you are a victim of sexual assault, intimate partner abuse, or child sexual abuse material, and would like to talk about your legal options contact us here or by calling 646-666-8908.



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