JMU researcher answers questions about Sexual Assault

JMU News

Harrisonburg, Virginia — Sexual Assault Awareness Month is coming to a close, but it’s no time to let sexual assault awareness wane. 

“It’s common to hear that ‘one in five’ women experience sexual assault. In fact, almost half of all women and a quarter of men will experience some type of sexual violence in their lifetime,” said Dayna Henry, a health sciences professor at James Madison University whose research includes preventing sexual assault. 

Exact estimates on the occurrence of sexual assault are difficult to obtain due to disagreement over definitions of what counts and lack of reporting by victims, Henry said. “Regardless of the true number, it’s too high.” 

In addition to the prevalence of sexual assault, Henry provided answers to the following questions. 

Q: The theme for this year’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month is, “Building Safe Spaces Online Together.” What role do online platforms have in sexual assault? How can social media become a safer place? 

A: Social media is an extension of our “in-person” life so it’s no surprise that there are many considerations related to sexual assault. For one, social media has played a large role in increasing awareness of sexual assault, including understanding why survivors don’t report. 

There has also been some attention paid to how digital media may be used to perpetuate rape myths (false beliefs about victims and perpetrators) by using “sexual” posts made by victims as “evidence” in sexual assault trials. 

Additionally, there has been some attention to how young people use social media to form social connection and relationships that may be sexual in nature. Dating or hookup apps are used to meet potential sexual partners and some research has examined the issues that arise when accurate information is not shared or one party assumes “consent” for sexual activity is given because they met on an app meant for sex. Also, the use of these apps among perpetrators to find victims has been documented.

When meeting people online, consider these tips for dating app safety from the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) 

RAINN also has useful resources for considering your privacy on social media:

Q: How can sexual assault be prevented? 

A: While there are many successful strategies to increase awareness and knowledge of sexual assault, few have demonstrated the ability to lower rates of sexual assault. As a good resource for examining existing programs, sort programs listed on “culture of respect” by “level” of evidence. There are currently 15 programs covering a variety of target populations that are considered evidence-based, that is, research demonstrates they meet at least one learning objective. However, this does not mean they reduce actual rates of assault.  In my opinion, a successful method to reduce sexual assault would have to involve sustained intervention at multiple levels: from individual programs through programs that address the culture around sex, power, gender etc. It’s complex! 

Q: What can people do to help raise awareness for sexual assault? 

A: The best way to raise awareness is to learn more about sexual assault and share what you’ve learned with others through social media. You can also donate money or volunteer your time working in the community and with organizations that work to prevent sexual assault and support victims. Finally, lobby your political representatives to support issues around sexual assault. 

Q: What are good resources for survivors and their supporters? 

A: RAINN has a great list of resources for survivors and loved ones: 

Specific to college students:  

JMU Victim Advocacy Services: 

  • gov: A government website dedicated to educating students and schools about Title IX and sexual assault.
  • Know Your IX: Provides information for students about their Title IX rights in regards to ending sexual violence on campus. JMU’s Title IX office.
  • End Rape on Campus: An advocacy organization dedicated to assisting students file Title IX complaints.

Q: What else should people be aware of about sexual assault?

A: Sexual assault is often seen as a “women’s issue,” not only because more victims are women, but also because women have received the message that they are responsible for protecting themselves and preventing assaults from happening to them. Common prevention advice is to never leave a drink unattended or walk alone at night. One of the underlying assumptions of this message is that women need to protect themselves from men because all men are potential perpetrators. If you think about this, men who are not perpetrators and see themselves as allies should be angry and upset that this is the message being portrayed about sexual assault. I’d love to see more men involved in raising awareness of sexual assault and holding other men accountable to change this messaging. 


Contact: Eric Gorton,, 540-908-1760 

More information about James Madison University, including rankings and recognitions can be found at

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Published: Thursday, April 28, 2022

Last Updated: Thursday, January 4, 2024

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