Sports and Sexual Violence

Student-Athletes and Athletic Department Staff Speak Up About Preventing Sexual Violence in the University of California Athletic System

Findings from UCLA, UC San Diego and UC Santa Barbara

Sexual violence and college athletics sexual assault, relationship violence and sexual harassment are pervasive public health problems on college and university campuses. Estimates suggest 33% of female and 10% of male undergraduate students in the U.S. experience sexual violence while at college/university (1, 2).

Studies have found rates of sexual violence are higher on campuses with athletic programs that are regulated by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), relative to non-NCAA campuses (3). Further, more violence against women has been reported on NCAA Division I (the highest level of NCAA sanctioned athletics) campuses, relative to NCAA Division II and Division III campuses and those with no athletic programs (4).

Despite the aforementioned findings, NCAA intercollegiate athletic programs are uniquely positioned to lead violence prevention efforts on campus. Student-athletes hold promise for modeling violence prevention behaviors among peers, and coaches are ideal mentors for shaping student-athletes’ values and skills so as to dismantle the roots of violence and strengthen healthy habits. For these efforts to be effective, it is essential to have a detailed understanding of how NCAA athletes conceptualize sexual violence and how athletes, coaches and administrators perceive available campus prevention and response programs. This study aimed to explore these issues.

1. Gash and Harding. (2018), #MeToo? Legal Discourse and Everyday Responses to Sexual Violence, Laws, 7, issue 2, p. 1-24
2. Fedina, L., Holmes, J. L., & Backes, B. L. (2018). Campus Sexual Assault: A Systematic Review of Prevalence Research From 2000 to 2015. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse.
3. Wiersma-Mosley, Jozkowski, Taylor. (2017). An Empirical Investigation of Campus Demographics and Reported Rapes. Journal of American College Health.
4. Kimble, N. B., Russo, S. A., Bergman, B. G., & Galindo, V. H. (2010).  Revealing an Empirical Understanding of Aggression and Violent Behavior in Athletes. Aggression and Violent Behavior.


Between January and June 2019, we conducted 7 focus group discussions and 21 in-depth interviews with studentathletes, athletic directors, and coaches from UCLA, UCSD, and UCSB. Through individual and group interviews, we assessed perceptions of sexual violence, knowledge and opinions about campus violence prevention and response programs, and we sought suggestions for improving campus sexual violence policies and programs, including health education.

The NCAA is the organization tasked with safeguarding student-athlete well-being and equipping them with skills to succeed athletically and in life.

UC Los Angeles is a Division I university whose teams participate in the Pac-12 Conference and Mountain Pacific Sports Federation. Student population ~ 45,000

UC San Diego is currently Division II. In 2017 the campus accepted an invitation to join the Big West Conference. Some teams already play Division I and campus will fully transition in 2020-2021. Student population ~ 36,000

UC Santa Barbara is a Division I university and participates in both the Big West and the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation. Student population ~ 24,000

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