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Sexual Assault Among College Students: Family of Origin Hostility, Attachment, and the Hook-Up Culture as Risk Factors

Abstract

Sexual assault has been recognized as a major public health problem and social concern among college students for several decades. In response to the inadequacies of many universities to effectively address this problem, researchers, policy makers, and the public alike have recently called for greater attention to reducing the high rates of sexual violence against college women. The present study expands on the current literature by investigating familial, individual, and sociocultural risk factors for sexual assault. Specifically, we examine insecure adult attachment styles and the hook-up culture on college campuses as mediators in the relationship between family of origin aggression and sexual assault perpetration by men and victimization among women. Research questions were addressed with a sample of 624 college undergraduates (54 % women). Consistent with hypotheses, results of structural equation modeling indicated that an avoidant attachment style and participation in the hook-up culture accounted for the relationship between exposure to interparental hostility and sexual assault perpetration by men and victimization among women. Further, among women, an anxious attachment style accounted for the relationship between harsh parenting and victimization. These findings have important implications for future research, relationship education programs for parents and young adults, and preventative interventions. For example, parents can learn about the risks of exposing their offspring to hostility and aggression while adolescents and young adults may benefit from relationship education programs that help establish healthy working models of relationships.

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Correspondence to Tara E. Sutton.

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Sutton, T.E., Simons, L.G. Sexual Assault Among College Students: Family of Origin Hostility, Attachment, and the Hook-Up Culture as Risk Factors. J Child Fam Stud 24, 2827–2840 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10826-014-0087-1

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10826-014-0087-1

Keywords

  • Interparental aggression
  • Hostile parenting
  • Insecure attachment
  • Hooking-up
  • Sexual assault