Original article| Volume 21, ISSUE 3, P199-205, May 2011

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Women’s Sexual Orientations and Their Experiences of Sexual Assault Before and During University



      We sought to examine relationships between women’s sexual orientations and their sexual assault experiences before and during university.


      Self-reported responses on a web-based survey of 5,439 female undergraduates who participated in the Campus Sexual Assault study were analyzed to compare three groups: bisexuals, lesbians, and heterosexuals. Groups were compared in terms of the prevalence of sexual assault before and during university, and the extent to which sexual assault before university predicted sexual assault during university.


      The prevalence of sexual assault before and during university was higher among bisexuals and lesbians compared with heterosexuals (25.4% of bisexuals, 22.4% of lesbians, and 10.7% of heterosexuals were sexually assaulted before university; 24.0% of bisexuals, 17.9% of lesbians, and 13.3% of heterosexuals were sexually assaulted during university). Sexual assault before university was highly predictive of sexual assault during university, especially among non-heterosexuals. Compared with heterosexuals not sexually assaulted before university (the referent group), previously assaulted non-heterosexuals (bisexuals/lesbians) had eight times the odds of sexual assault during university (adjusted odds ratio [AOR] = 8.75), whereas previously assaulted heterosexuals had four times the odds of sexual assault during university (AOR, 4.40). However, there was no difference in the odds of sexual assault during university between non-heterosexuals not sexually assaulted before university and heterosexuals not sexually assaulted before university.


      Bisexual and lesbian women are more likely than heterosexual women to be sexually assaulted before and during university. Sexual assault before university is linked to sexual assault during university for all women, with this association being especially pronounced among non-heterosexuals.
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      Sandra L. Martin is an epidemiologist and Professor in the Department of Maternal and Child Health, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Her research, teaching and service activities focus on physical and sexual violence in women's lives.


      Bonnie S. Fisher received her PhD from Northwestern University and is a Professor at the University of Cincinnati. She coauthored Unsafe in the Ivory Tower: The Sexual Victimization of College Women. Her research includes evaluating effectiveness of bystander interventions among college students.


      Tara D. Warner is a doctoral student in Sociology at Bowling Green State University. Her research focuses on how structural and cultural contextual factors impact individuals' behavior, health, and well-being, with a particular focus on adolescence and emerging adulthood.


      Christopher P. Krebs received his PhD in Criminology from Florida State University and is a senior research sociologist at RTI. His research interests include drug epidemiology and treatment, intimate partner violence and sexual violence, criminal justice systems, and program evaluation.


      Christine H. Lindquist received her PhD in Medical Sociology from the University of Alabama, Birmingham and is a senior research sociologist at RTI. Her research interests and areas of expertise include prisoner reentry, families and incarceration, and violence against women.