JMU researcher answers questions about sexual assault

Harrisonburg, Virginia – Sexual Assault Awareness Month is coming to an end, but now is not the time to let sexual assault awareness drop.

“It’s common to hear that ‘one in five women‘ experiences sexual assault. In fact, nearly half of all women and a quarter of men will experience some type of sexual violence in their lifetime,” said Dayna Henry, a professor of health sciences at James Madison University, whose research include the prevention of sexual assault.

Obtaining accurate estimates of the frequency of sexual assaults is difficult due to disagreement over definitions of what counts and a lack of reporting by victims, Henry said. “Whatever the actual number is, it’s too high.”

In addition to the prevalence of sexual assault, Henry provided answers to the following questions.

Q: The theme for this year’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month is “Building Safe Spaces Online Together”. What role do online platforms play in sexual assault? How can social networks become a safer place?

A: Social media is an extension of our “in person” lives, so it’s no surprise that there are many considerations related to sexual assault. For one thing, social media has played an important role in raising awareness about sexual assault, including understanding why survivors don’t report.

Some attention has also been given to how digital media can be used to perpetuate rape myths (false beliefs about victims and perpetrators) by using “sexual” posts made by victims as “evidence” in rape stories. sexual assault trial.

Additionally, some attention has been paid to how young people use social media to form social connections and relationships that may be sexual in nature. Dating or dating apps are used to meet potential sexual partners and some research has examined the issues that arise when accurate information is not shared or a party assumes that “consent” to sexual activity is given because that she met on a sex app. Additionally, perpetrators’ use of these apps to find victims has been documented.

When meeting people online, consider these dating app safety tips from the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN)

RAINN also offers helpful resources for considering your privacy on social media:

Q: How to prevent sexual assault?

A: Although there are many effective strategies for increasing awareness and knowledge about sexual assault, few have been shown to reduce rates of sexual assault. As a good resource for reviewing existing programs, sort the programs listed on “culture of respect” by “level” of proof. There are currently 15 programs covering a variety of target populations that are considered evidence-based, meaning that research demonstrates that they meet at least one learning objective. However, this does not mean that they reduce the actual rates of aggression. In my opinion, an effective method to reduce sexual assault should involve sustained intervention at many levels: from individual programs to programs that address the culture around sex, power, gender, etc. It’s complex!

Q: What can people do to help raise awareness about sexual assault?

A: The best way to raise awareness is to learn more about sexual assault and share what you’ve learned with others via social media. You can also donate money or volunteer by working in the community and with organizations that work to prevent sexual assault and support victims. Finally, pressure your political representatives to support sexual assault issues.

Q: What are good resources for survivors and their supporters?

A: RAINN has an excellent list of resources for survivors and their loved ones:

Specific to college students:

JMU Victim Advocacy Services:

  • government: A government website dedicated to educating students and schools about Title IX and sexual assault.
  • Know your IX: Provides information to students about their Title IX rights with respect to ending sexual violence on campus. JMU Title IX Office.
  • Ending Rape on Campus: An advocacy organization dedicated to helping students file Title IX lawsuits.

Q: What else should people be aware of about sexual assault?

A: Sexual assault is often seen as a “women’s issue”, not only because more victims are women, but also because women have been told that they are responsible for protecting themselves and prevent attacks from happening to them. Common prevention advice is to never leave a drink unattended or walk alone at night. One of the underlying assumptions of this message is that women need to protect themselves from men because all men are potential perpetrators. If you think about it, men who aren’t abusers and see themselves as allies should be angry and upset that this is the message being portrayed about sexual assault. I would love to see more men involved in sexual assault awareness and hold other men accountable to change that message.


Contact: Eric Gorton,, 540-908-1760

More information about James Madison University, including rankings and recognitions, can be found at

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