The Prevalence of Trauma Amongst College Students

For most, college is a time of self-exploration, academic accomplishment, and the beginning of what will hopefully be a lucrative and long-standing career in one of many potential fields. College allows us the opportunity to network with others who have similar interests, form lasting connections, and set a solid foundation for future successes.

We develop lifelong friendships, discover our true passions and motivations, and learn about ourselves on a thorough and authentic level. Of course, college is also notoriously a time of hard partying – heavy drinking, late nights, and boldly experimenting with a wide variety of questionable substances. It is a time of immense personal growth, and growth rarely occurs without a few painful mistakes to help prompt it along. And while drunken mistakes are bound to be made on occasion, it is important to bear in mind the fact that not all booze-induced, unfavorable college experiences qualify as ‘mistakes’. In some instances, what we may brush off as drunken misadventures are actually significant traumatic experiences – and leaving them unresolved will inevitably lead to serious personal problems later on down the line.

Yes, college can be a time of hard partying and significantly lowered inhibitions. Because of this, college students tend to be more susceptible to undergoing traumatic experiences than other members of the general population. While some of these experiences may be minor and easily resolved, they may also be major, and require intensive follow-up treatment. Let us take a closer look at one of the largest trauma-related issues that college students face.

The National Sexual Violence Resource Center released the Campus Sexual Assault Fact Sheet in 2015, which focused on the alarming rate of traumatic sexual experiences occurring on college campuses across the nation. It was estimated that the percentage of attempted or completed rape victimizations amongst college women was somewhere between 20 and 25 percent. It was estimated that for every 1,000 women attending a college or university, there are roughly 35 reported incidents of rape every academic year.  9 out of every 10 victims of rape or sexual assault knew their offender, and of the assaulted, 22.8 percent were the victim of multiple rapes.

Off campus victimization was found to be far ore common, but on campus victimization still occurs at an alarming rate – 33.7 percent of women were victimized on campus, and 66.3 percent were victimized off campus. Women living in sorority houses were found to be 3 times more likely to experience a sexual assault than women living off campus. The Campus Sexual Assault Study revealed that the majority of rapes and assaults took place on Friday or Saturday night, between the hours of midnight and 6 am. Regardless of the time, place, and relationship between the victim and the assaulter, the study clearly concluded that incidents of rape and sexual assault are higher amongst collegiate women than any other limited demographic.

And while assault rates are certainly higher amongst women, men are also at risk – 5.4 percent of male undergraduate students and 2.2 percent of male graduate and professional students experience rape or sexual assault through force or violence.

Overall, one in every five college students will experience rape or sexual assault over the course of their academic career.

Many colleges and universities offer their students therapeutic counseling, support groups, or courses in personal safety and prevention. Many colleges also offer basic courses in self-defense – and if a course cannot be found on campus, counselors will typically help guide interested individuals in the right direction. The rate of rape and sexual assault amongst women (and men) in institutions of higher education is exceedingly high, but this is not the only potential for trauma on campus. Threats of mass violence, and executed acts of mass violence (such as school shootings) have left many college students traumatized and in desperate need of psychological and therapeutic counseling. Fortunately, such counseling is being made more readily available, and on a larger scale. Regardless of what traumatic experiences occur, it is essential that steps are taken immediately afterwards to ensure the initiation of a healthy, therapeutic recovery. Ignoring the painful experience will only lead to greater emotional difficulties, and seeing as unresolved trauma is an ideal breeding ground for substance dependency, what began as experimentation may rapidly snowball into alcoholism or addiction.

Trauma Resources for College Students

Resources will vary depending on the institution, but the vast majority of colleges and universities offer therapeutic counseling to trauma victims. Many colleges will also offer courses and assemblies geared towards prevention and awareness. There are several basic safety precautions that every college student would benefit from taking, including:

  • Sticking with friends.

Never attend a social gathering without a circle of close friends that you know you can trust. Watch out for one another, and formulate a plan of action regarding safely getting home. If you need to go somewhere alone at night, be sure that someone knows where you will be, and stay in heavily populated, well-lit areas.

  • Knowing personal alcohol limits.

Well over half of sexual assaults committed against college students occur while they are heavily intoxicated. While intoxication is never to blame for any act of violence of abuse, being drunk does make individuals significantly more vulnerable to unforeseen attacks. Not only will your physical ability to fight off a potential attacker be impaired, but your judgment will be harshly skewed. You may readily go home with someone that you may not otherwise trust. Those who regularly drink to the point of black-out are at the highest risk of assault.

  • Watching over beverages.

Even if you are not drinking alcohol, drinking an uncovered beverage at a bar or social gathering leaves you at risk of being drugged. Never accept a drink from a stranger, and always bring your beverage with you when you go to the restroom (or anywhere else, for that matter).

  • Trusting gut instincts.

If you begin to feel uneasy about a specific individual or circumstance, do what you can to remove yourself from the situation as quickly as possible. If you feel as if you are being pursued, make a beeline for the nearest, densely populated area. Be sure to carry your cell phone with you at all times, so that you can quickly call for help if ever necessary. You can also use your cell phone as a tool to deter potential attackers – begin speaking loudly while holding your phone to your ear.

  • Being prepared.

In addition to keeping your cell phone on you, there are several other precautions you can take when it comes to protecting yourself from potential danger. Keep a small can of pepper spray in your purse, or attached to your keys – somewhere it will be easily accessible. Take a self-defense class, and look into other ways you can actively make yourself feel safer and better protected.

  • Contacting authorities.

If something happens, contact authorities immediately – no matter what. Over 60 percent of all college-aged assault victims fail to contact authorities after they have been attacked. Remember that the details of your assault will be kept confidential, and that the best way to help yourself overcome trauma is by talking through the event with licensed professionals, who will help you locate additional resources if necessary.

Unfortunately, traumatic experiences occur quite frequently in college settings. Even for college students who are in addiction recovery and maintain abstinence from all mood and mind-altering substances, sexual assault (or traumatic experiences of other kinds) can still occur. It is important for students who undergo trauma to allow themselves adequate time to heal – take time off from classes and seek the professional guidance and support they need. Students may put an unhealthy amount of pressure on themselves after experiencing a traumatic event; they may feel obligated to get back to their academics as quickly as possible, and move on from the event in an unrealistic amount of time. The healing process may take time, and it is important that self-love and mental, emotional, and physical health remain top priority. For more information on trauma and college students, please feel free to contact us today, or utilize any one of the resources that we have provided below.


Article written by Next Chapter Addiction Treatment

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