How Some Colleges Put LGBT Students At Greater Risk Of Sexual Assault

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John Kelly was sexually assaulted as a college sophomore in 2012.

Kelly ― who identifies with the pronouns “they,” “them” and “their,” and whose gender does not align with binary male-female gender lines ― told campus administration. Their assailant was subsequently suspended. But because Kelly and their assaulter had socialized in the same queer community at Tufts University, “people stopped talking to me, stopped acknowledging me,” Kelly told The Huffington Post in 2015.

Isolated, Kelly attempted suicide.

This incident from five years ago sheds some light on the unique experience LGBT students have when they are sexual assaulted ― crimes that typically don’t garner much news coverage.

“Although LGBT [people] disproportionately experience sexual assault victimization, their assaults are not highlighted in the media,” said Robert Coulter, a doctoral candidate at the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public Health.

Where students attend college may make a difference in how likely it is that they’ll be harassed or otherwise victimized.

“Campus climates can actually impact at-risk groups,” said Coulter, who is the lead author of a study published this month in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence.

His research suggests that making college campuses more welcoming for LGBT people could help reduce sexual assaults of queer students. The study defined sexual assault as “intentional physical contact, such as sexual intercourse or touching, of a person’s intimate body parts by someone who did not have permission to make such contact.”

The study, which analyzed 2010 data from approximately 2,000 sexual- and gender-minority college undergraduates in all 50 states, found that there were fewer sexual assaults on LGBT students at schools that students perceived as being LGBT-friendly. (A caveat to consider: People who have been sexually assaulted could be more likely to consider their campus exclusionary or hostile.)

The research also found that students who witnessed harassment of sexual- or gender-minority people on campus were more likely to be the victims of sexual assault than those who did not witness harassment.

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