Whether you are a parent, professor, administrator, student, coworker, or friend—you can make a difference in someone’s life by noticing the warning signs of sexual assault and abusive relationships. Sexual violence, like many other crimes, can occur on college campuses and at locations frequented by college students.
Warning signs that someone may have been sexually assaulted
Some of the warning signs for sexual assault may be caused by events that are unrelated, such as a college student being away from home for the first time. It’s better to ask and be wrong than to let the person you care about struggle with the effects of sexual assault. You can ask questions that point to a specific person or time like, “Did something happen with the person you met at the party the other night?” You can also simply reaffirm that you will believe them when they are ready to come forward, and that it’s not their fault.
If you notice these warning signs in a college student, it’s worth reaching out to them:
- Signs of depression, such as persistent sadness, lack of energy, changes in sleep or appetite, withdrawing from normal activities, or feeling “down”
- Self-harming behaviors, thoughts of suicide, or suicidal behaviors
- Low self-esteem
- Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
- Anxiety or worry about situations that did not seem to cause anxiety in the past
- Avoiding specific situations or places
- Falling grades or withdrawing from classes
- Increase in drug or alcohol use
Using technology to hurt others
College-age adults may also experience sexual harassment or other unwanted behaviors through technology and online interactions. Some people use technology—such as digital photos, videos, apps, and social media—to engage in harassing, unsolicited, or non-consensual sexual interactions. It can leave the person on the other end feeling manipulated, unsafe, and exposed, like when someone forwards a text, photo, or “sext” intended only for the original recipient.