Associations of Rape Myth Belief and Perceived School Support with The Likelihood of Reporting Sexual Assault
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Background: Sexual assault occurs at high rates (one in five students) at institutions of higher education in the U.S. and is known to have a negative impact on students’ affective, physical, financial, and academic outcomes. Only a small percentage of these sexual assault crimes are reported to institutions, preventing students from gaining access to support services that act as protective factors against negative outcomes. Little is known about what predicts a student’s likelihood of reporting prior to having experienced an assault (hereafter referred to as “likelihood of reporting”), and whether external factors, such as perception of school support, influence this likelihood. Purpose: The aims of the proposed study were to examine (1) whether survey items related to likelihood of reporting and perceived school support map to underlying latent multiple-indicator constructs that are invariant across male and female students; (2) whether a student’s rape myth belief, which has a strong theoretical alignment to survivors’ endorsed reasons for not reporting their sexual assault, is related to the likelihood of reporting; and (3) whether perceived school support moderates the relationship between rape myth belief and likelihood of reporting among university students. Methods: Participants (N = 4596) included undergraduate, graduate, and professional students from a large, tier 1, public institution in southwest United States. A cross-sectional survey assessed participants’ demographic characteristics, rape myth belief, likelihood of reporting, and perceived school support. Confirmatory Factor Analysis was used to examine the factor structure of latent variables. Structural regression models were estimated to determine the effect of rape myth belief on likelihood of reporting, and the moderating effect of perceived campus climate on this relationship. Results: Confirmatory factor analysis and Chi-Square difference tests supported weak threshold invariance for both likelihood of reporting and perceived school support latent variables. Rape myth belief significantly predicted likelihood of reporting for both males and females when controlling for classification (year in school), residence (living on vs. off campus), and race/ethnicity such that higher levels of rape myth belief were associated with lower levels of likelihood of reporting, p < 0.001 (Cohen’s f2 females = 0.139, males = 0.147). Perceived school support significantly moderated the relationship between rape myth belief and likelihood of reporting when controlling for classification, residence, and race/ethnicity on all levels of the moderator, such that any level of perceived school support, the relationship between rape myth belief and likelihood of reporting was negative, p < 0.001 (Cohen’s f2 females = 0.012, males = 0.024). Conclusion: An individual’s belief in false rape myths and their perception of the support that an institution would provide in the instance of reporting a sexual assault significantly influence the student’s likelihood of reporting. Institutions of higher education should seek to implement interventions that challenge false beliefs and educate students on the support and resources that the institution provides. This growing body of research must aim to positively impact proactive education and support efforts in order to ensure the safety and opportunity for success for all students.