Prevalence of and Risk Factors for Sexual Victimization in College Women in Chile

Article excerpt

CONTEXT: To date, no quantitative studies have examined the prevalence or correlates of sexual violence among college students in Chile.

METHODS: An anonymous survey with questions on gender-based violence, demographic and socioeconomic characteristics, and childhood experiences with violence was administered to students at a major public university in Santiago. Descriptive statistics were generated to determine the prevalence and context of sexual victimization experienced by female students, and ordered logit models were used to identify associated risk factors.

RESULTS: Nine percent of subjects reported that the most severe form of undesired sexual contact they had experienced since age 14 was rape; 6% indicated attempted rape and 16% another form of sexual victimization. Seventeen percent of subjects reported having experienced some form of undesired sexual contact in the past 12 months alone. Alcohol or other drugs had been used in most cases of rape or attempted rape, by the victim (6%), the perpetrator (9%) or both (56%). In four sequential models, factors associated with increased odds of victimization included low parental education (Model 1) and childhood sexual abuse (Models 3 and 4); the association between witnessing domestic violence and victimization attained marginal significance (Model 2). Attending religious services during adolescence was associated with reduced odds of victimization (Models 1 and 2). Childhood sexual abuse was the only factor associated with victimization when all variables were included.

CONCLUSIONS: A substantial proportion of young women in the sample reported experiences of rape, attempted rape or other forms of forced sexual contact, indicating a need for further attention to this public health problem in Chile.

International Family Planning Perspectives, 2007, 33(4):168-175


Recent studies have documented a high level of gender-based violence in Chile and other Latin American countries. (1-7) Although there have been some exceptions, (8,9) most of the research to date has focused on violence against women within the context of cohabitation or marriage. (10) Substantially less is known about gender-based violence perpetrated against adolescent and young adult women. This is a concern, as previous research has shown that experiencing sexual victimization during late adolescence or young adulthood can have far-reaching consequences, including unwanted pregnancy and increased risk of psychological, sexual and reproductive health problems. (11-13) In addition, analyses conducted in developing countries have found that experiences of sexual violence can limit young women's ability to achieve their educational potential. (14)

The present study focused on college students. Approximately 46% of youth aged 20-24 in Chile are enrolled in an institution of higher education. (15) No published quantitative studies have examined dating violence or sexual assault in this population, and campuses across the country lack systematized programs to prevent or respond to these problems.

To begin to address this gap in knowledge, we developed the 2005 Survey of Student Well-Being. Administered to male and female students at a large public university in Chile, the survey included questions on experiences with sexual victimization within or outside the context of dating relationships, and with physical and psychological dating violence. The survey also included questions on rape myth acceptance, childhood sexual abuse, witnessing of violence between parents, and socioeconomic and demographic characteristics. The purpose of the present study was to examine the prevalence of and risk factors for sexual victimization in the female sample, the extent of women's rape myth acceptance and the contexts of sexual assault. (1) Our analysis was guided by the numerous U.S. studies that have examined factors associated with young women's vulnerability to sexual assault, with the purpose of helping in the design of effective risk-reduction programs and in the provision of clinically useful information to health practitioners. …