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Back to School? How Experiencing Violence Affects Educational Attainment

By Lande Watson

As college students across the country head back to campus for the fall semester, some of their peers may not be among them. A new IWPR fact sheet on the economic cost of intimate partner violence (IPV), sexual assault, and stalking highlights the effect of such violence on the educational attainment of survivors. College-aged women are particularly vulnerable—women ages 18 to 24 experience the highest rates of rape and sexual assault.

Students who experience IPV and sexual violence often suffer significant physical and psychological trauma, and many do not return to college as a result. Moreover, the likelihood of running into their abuser or rapist on campus, whether in class or even in their residence, can make campus an unsafe and hostile environment for survivors, particularly if colleges do not provide ample support and accommodations.

The economic effects of violence experienced by college students can also be far-reaching. Survivors may face out-of-pocket medical costs, diminished credit, and job instability. Experiencing sexual assault also makes it less likely for survivors to finish college, which may lead to a lifetime of economic disadvantage.

IWPR has reviewed key studies that illustrate how physical and psychological trauma from violence as efforts to economically sabotage victim impedes educational attainment. Survivors complete fewer years of education than students who did not experience violence, are more likely to skip school, and often drop classes or move residence to avoid their assailant. A few findings from these studies include:

Further, out-of-pocket health costs associated with sexual assault or rape can be burdensome for survivors, potentially straining their ability to afford other expenses, such as college tuition. For instance, one study found the average medical cost of rape within the first 30 days following treatment to be $6,737—$948 of which was paid by the victim. In addition to these short-term costs, the lifetime financial cost of rape is significant for survivors, estimated by one study to be $122,461, on average, per victim.

As a new wave of schools fall under federal Title IX investigation for their handling of sexual assault and sexual harassment, university administrators should assess how they can support survivors on campus as they work to continue and complete their education. There are many ways to support survivors on campus: schools can help survivors by connecting them to supportive services—such as financial aid, child care, mental health support, and transportation assistance—that may assist victims in seeking justice, completing their education, and achieving greater economic mobility. Teachers, faculty, college administrators, and other educational personnel should receive training on domestic violence and its economic impact on students’ lives. The Office on Civil Rights at the Department of Education has also recommended that all schools proactively consider remedies for responding to sexual harassment and domestic or dating violence, such as providing counseling services, medical services, and arranging for the complainant to retake a course without penalty.

Colleges can take these steps so that survivors—who otherwise might not return to class this month because they are dealing with the effects of intimate partner violence, sexual assault, and stalking—can come back to school and complete their education.