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Two students hug and comfort each other during a support group session.

Survivors of sexual violence need additional supports from colleges and universities to succeed in their academics and life in college.

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A 2019 campus climate survey by the Association of American Universities found that 26.4 percent of undergraduate women and 6.9 percent of undergraduate men experienced sexual assault while at college. And now a new report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office identifies policies and practices that can address the mental health, safety and academic needs of survivors of sexual violence.

Sexual violence—including domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault or stalking—can have significant consequences on survivors’ financial and academic health if they were enrolled in college when the trauma occurred, according to the report.

A 2017 study estimated rape can cost a survivor $122,461 across their lifetime due to medical costs, lost productivity and criminal justice activities, among other costs. Other research shows students who experienced sexual assault are more likely to have lower GPAs, stop out or have self-regulated learning problems.

The report pulls from GAO’s evaluations at four two- and four-year institutions representing various sizes and sectors and interviews with officials from the Department of Education, administrators from the colleges and representatives from eight organizations representing survivors, student loan borrowers and the colleges.

Policies and practices: The four identified colleges target student completion and success in three primary ways: mental health support, safety needs and academic needs.

  • Mental health support. Colleges can offer on-campus mental health counseling for survivors or refer them to off-campus organizations, such as a nonprofit community-based partner for survivors. One college also provides access to a health center that can provide medications with low (less than $10) out-of-pocket costs. Ensuring students have easy access to mental health providers is also critical—students can be deterred by long wait lists and staffing shortages.
  • Safety needs. Institutions should take protective measures to address the safety needs of students who survived sexual assault, including no-contact orders, assistance with notifying law enforcement and modifications to housing, employment assignment and transportation. All four colleges studied provide campus escorts to survivors upon request.
  • Academic needs. Administrators at all four colleges created policies to address the challenges students may face in completing their academic work. Course adjustments can be helpful for students who have difficulty focusing on academics (flexible grading, extensions on assignments) or who do not feel comfortable on campus (remote courses), while others may require a leave of absence or withdraw. Colleges should also implement flexible policies regarding GPA requirements because of how they can impact students’ financial aid.

Ensuring smooth and efficient transfer between institutions can also benefit survivors. Some survivors face transfer credit loss, which can lengthen their time to degree. Therefore, helping learners make informed decisions on transfer opportunities is key. Admissions offices should weigh extenuating circumstances for students looking to transfer, as well.

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