University of New Hampshire
Mentor: Dr. Ellen Cohn and Dr. Victoria Banyard, UNH Department of Psychology
Incidence of Unwanted Sexual Experiences Among College Students: Gender and The Red Zone
The incidence of unwanted sexual experiences among 16 to 24 year olds is a serious problem. This age range is that of the average college student population, making this a prevalent issue on many campuses. This project investigates the presence of a “red zone,” the first few weeks of the college semester where females are thought to be more at risk for unwanted sexual experiences, among first year college students compared to those in their later years of school. It also investigates the way sexual experience questions are asked and how that affects the response outcome. It is crucial to study the “red zone” effect so that colleges may know at what periods of time their campuses are most at risk for these unwanted experiences, and how to better prevent them. It is also important to understand how sexual experience questions are worded and perceived by participants in order to receive more accurate responses in the future. We examined this separately for males and females. Data for this study derives from the UNH Unwanted Sexual Experiences Survey (USES), a web-based survey of 4871 participants from seven New England colleges and universities. Within this study, 1556 were males and 3315 were females. A multivariate analysis of variance was used to examine differences in incidence rates by year in college and sex of participants across self-reports of unwanted sexual contact and unwanted sexual intercourse. When viewing the unwanted sexual intercourse question, it was revealed that there was no significant relation between unwanted intercourse and year in college, however, there were significant differences for unwanted sexual contact. First year students reported a higher incidence of unwanted contact. These prevalence rates were shown to continually decrease as students progressed in their years at college. Women reported higher incidence of unwanted sexual experiences than men. As for how questions are asked, the UNH made unwanted sexual intercourse question was analyzed using a post-hoc analysis with five Koss made behavioral based questions. Results showed that the way the question is asked does affect the response. Results support the “red zone” effect and the notion that females are prone to enduring more unwanted sexual experiences on average than males. This research contributes to earlier theories about changing patterns of risk for unwanted sexual experiences during the college years. The findings have important implications for prevention, highlighting the need for prevention education that begins early in a students’ college career. However, the data also highlights that risk for sexual assault does persist throughout the college years and that resources for prevention and intervention need to be ongoing throughout a student’s time on campus.