How Common Is Trauma Among College Students?

For most people, college is a time of self-exploration and academic accomplishment that provides the foundation for a career. College gives individuals the opportunity to network with others who have similar interests, form lasting connections, and set a solid foundation for future successes.

Of course, college is also notoriously a time of hard partying, late nights and experimenting with a variety of questionable substances. It is also a time of immeasurable personal growth. The maturation process rarely occurs without a few mistakes. It is important to note that not all booze-induced, unfavorable college experiences qualify as “mistakes.” In some instances, events categorized as drunken misadventures may be significant traumatic experiences. Let’s take a closer look at one of the largest trauma-related issues that college students face.

A Quick Look At The Numbers

In order to get a better look at the problem, let’s take a look at some of the statistics. Here are a few quick facts:

  • Statistics show 1 in 5 women (20%) will be sexually assaulted while at college while only 4% of college men will be sexually assaulted.
  • 42% of college women who are raped tell no one about the assault.
  • It is estimated that only 5% of sexual assaults on college campuses are reported, making sexual assault the most underreported crime.1
  • Nearly two-thirds of college students experience sexual harassment2

How Colleges Are Responding

Many colleges and universities offer their students therapeutic counseling, support groups, and courses in personal safety and prevention. Many colleges also offer basic courses in self-defense.If you cannot find a course on campus, counselors on campus are happy to point you 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 becoming more readily available. Regardless of what traumatic experiences occur, it is essential that steps are taken immediately afterward 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 each institution, but the vast majority of colleges and universities offer therapeutic counseling to trauma victims. Many colleges also offer courses and assemblies geared towards prevention and awareness. There are several basic safety precautions recommended for college students such as:

Stick With Your Friends

Individuals should never attend a social gathering without a circle of close friends that you know you can trust. Students need to watch out for one another and formulate a plan of action to safely get home. If you someone needs to go to a location alone at night, he needs to be sure that friends know where he will be. He should also stay in heavily populated, well-lit areas.

Know Your Limits

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, one-half of sexual assault cases involve alcohol consumption by the perpetrator, victim, or both.3 While intoxication is never to blame for any act of violence of abuse, being drunk makes individuals significantly more vulnerable to unforeseen attacks. Not only will your physical ability to fight off a potential attacker be impaired, an individual’s judgment is skewed as well. Someone may readily go home with someone that he does not otherwise trust.

Watch Beverages Closely

Whenever someone drinks an uncovered beverage at a bar or social gathering this behavior leaves the individual at risk of being drugged. It is wise to never accept a drink from a stranger and to always keep any beverages nearby (whether or not they contain alcohol).

Trust Gut Instincts

If a student feels uneasy about a specific individual or circumstance, he should do what he can to remove yourself from the situation as quickly as possible. If the student feels as if you are being pursued go to the nearest, densely populated area. Students should also be sure to carry a cell phone at all times. A cell phone is a helpful way to deter potential attackers.

Be Prepared

In addition to keeping a cell phone nearby, there are several other precautions students 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. Students are encouraged to take a self-defense class and to be as proactive as possible about their personal safety.

Contact Authorities

If something happens, students need to contact authorities immediately – no matter what. Many cases are not reported because victims are afraid to tell the police, friends, or family about the crime.4 The details of an assault are kept confidential. One of the best ways to overcome trauma is to talk with a licensed medical professional.

Next Steps

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.


111 Facts About Sexual Assault.” DoSomething.org, Accessed April 9, 2018.

2Get Statistics.” National Sexual Violence Resource Center, Accessed April 9, 2018.

3 Abbey, Antonia. “Alcohol and Sexual Assault.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, Accessed on April 9, 2018.

4Understanding Sexual Violence.” Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, Accessed April 9, 2018.


Articles posted here are primarily educational and may not directly reflect the offerings at The Oaks. For more specific information on programs at The Oaks, contact us today.