Sexual Victimization History Predicts Academic Performance in College Women

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Abstract

College women frequently report having experienced sexual victimization (SV) in their lifetime, including child sexual abuse and adolescent/adult sexual assault. Although the harmful mental health sequelae of SV have been extensively studied, recent research suggests that SV is also a risk factor for poorer college academic performance. The current studies examined whether exposure to SV uniquely predicted poorer college academic performance, even beyond contributions from three well-established predictors of academic performance: high school rank, composite standardized test scores (i.e., American College Testing [ACT]), and conscientiousness. Study 1 analyzed longitudinal data from a sample of female college students (N = 192) who were assessed at the beginning and end of one semester. SV predicted poorer cumulative end-of-semester grade point average (GPA) while controlling for well-established predictors of academic performance. Study 2 replicated these findings in a second longitudinal study of female college students (N = 390) and extended the analyses to include follow-up data on the freshmen and sophomore students (n = 206) 4 years later. SV predicted students’ GPA in their final term at the university above the contributions of well-established academic predictors, and it was the only factor related to leaving college. These findings highlight the importance of expanding the scope of outcomes of SV to include academic performance, and they underscore the need to assess SV and other adverse experiences on college campuses to target students who may be at risk of poor performance or leaving college.

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