Traumas, and Traumas! The Stories of College Women

As many as 85% of individuals report experiencing trauma at some point in their lifetime (Frazier et al., 2009; Smyth et al., 2008). Trauma exposure, specifically in the college population, is related to many negative consequences, such as substance use, emotional and academic issues, and dropping out of college (Banyard & Cantor, 2004; Duncan, 2000; MacFarlane et al., 2009).

The current qualitative study is part of a larger project examining women’s responses to their most salient traumatic experience. This project examined 779 undergraduate women’s responses to the question: What traumatic experience did you write about? Two independent reviewers coded responses into 27 categories, and a third reviewer was brought in to obtain 2/3 consensus.

The most commonly reported trauma was sexual assault, with 24% (n=186) of the women reporting an experience. Other reported traumas included general life stress, breakups, police involvement, and stalking or kidnapping.

These findings are consistent with quantitative research suggesting that nearly 25% of college women report an experience of sexual assault (Fisher et al., 2000). It is notable that while progress has been made in our society to combat sexual assault, there is much more to be done, as women are still suffering. Given the outcomes of trauma associated with sexual assault, colleges must create and provide stronger treatment, prevention, and educational programs for students.

One limitation is that sexual assault was referenced in the questionnaire, perhaps leading women to over-report sexual assault. Future studies should target women of various age groups and examine the process of recovery after trauma.

Authors: Maureen Sessa, Jill Swirsky, Tiffany Marcantonio, & DJ Angelone

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