The Link Between Alcohol and Sexual Assault in College
College is a time of vast change for young adults across the country and around the world. With a newfound freedom comes the chance to explore an entirely new realm of possibilities associated with crossing the bridge from childhood into the trenches of adulthood. These can very well be the defining moments in a person’s life. But what happens when this newfound freedom and power is used for bad instead of good?
In the wake of this new way of life comes many drawbacks when poor decision making occurs. I’m talking, of course, about binge drinking and substance abuse in college. With all of the emphasis put on budding alcoholic tendencies that present themselves in college, could there, in fact, be a correlation between these dangerous drinking practices and the increase of sexual assaults on campuses across the nation?
Alcohol on Campus
Before delving into the relationship between alcohol and sexual assaults in college, it’s important to first take a look at the relationship between alcohol and the college student in general. College is often depicted on television and in film as the Wild West of drinking culture. Binge drinking sessions are glorified and parties are seen as a regular occurrence. But how much of this perpetuated scene is based in reality?
There’s no mistaking that alcohol is, in fact, a real issue on campus. Alcohol is reported as the number one most frequently abused drug on college campuses throughout the United States, with almost 60 percent of students (aged 18-22) reporting drinking in the last month. Of this 60 percent, 2 of 3 engaged in binge drinking within that same time frame.
Binge drinking is considered consuming a large quantity of alcohol across a short amount of time. For men it equates to about five or more drinks across two hours, with women requiring four or more.
Since there appears to be more than a few alcohol fueled nights on campus, could this be the reason behind the increase in sexual assaults reported by college students within the last decade?
Understanding Sexual Assault
It is first crucial to understand just what sexual assault is. There are many misconceptions that sexual assault refers only to the crime of rape and that is perpetrated by a stranger in a mask, but the real face of sexual assault is much different.
The actual definition of sexual assault is a sexual act in which a person is coerced or physically forced to engage against their will. It can also be considered the non-consensual touching of a person. It includes rape, groping, child sexual abuse, or torture of a person in a sexual manner.
What’s more, sexual assault is not merely an act performed by a stranger lurking the dark streets at night.
In fact, more often than not, sexual assaults are committed by someone known to the victim. Nearly 85-90 percent of sexual assaults reported by college women in particular are perpetuated by someone known by the victim.
Sexual Assault on Campus
Currently, it is estimated that approximately 11.2 perrcent of all college students experience rape or sexual assault. Women between the ages of 18 and 24 years old are at an elevated risk of sexual violence.
Sexual assault and sexual violence is more frequent and likely to occur than any other type of crime such as robberies or physical assault. As a result, most college women EXPECT to experience some sort of sexual violence at one point during their scholastic career.
The response to these horrendous statistics by colleges is not much for providing peace of mind. Since the reporting rates for sexual assaults on campus are extremely low, less than 5 percent of completed and attempted rapes are reported to campus administrators or law enforcement at all, the subsequent punishment rate is even lower.
Since many reports of sexual assault on campus are investigated by the colleges themselves as opposed to actual law enforcement, many young men and women feel that their assaults fall on deaf ears. Often, many students believe that the process in unjust, and often favors perpetrators over victims.
Many victims begin to experience a level of social ostracism and may develop substance abuse issues of their own. In the end, many may end up dropping out of school entirely.
What’s Alcohol Got to Do With It?
So, is there a link between sexual assaults and alcohol?
The short answer is: yes.
When it comes to alcohol-related sexual assaults or date rapes, there are approximately 97,000 students per year that report to experiencing sexual violence as a direct result of alcohol consumption.
But why is alcohol to blame?
In the end, it comes down to personal choices and how you conduct yourself. Committing sexual assault under any circumstance is inexcusable. However, understanding how alcohol plays a key-role might help make the picture a bit clearer.
Alcohol affects behavior. Alcohol directly impacts the way that a person is able to interact with others socially. Alcohol is known to increase aggression, self disclosure, and sexual adventuresomeness. The reason for this stark contrast in behavior witnessed in sober people versus drunk people is the way that alcohol impedes the way our brain processes impulses. So where one person who has not ingested any alcohol may see substantial risk, an inebriated person does not.
Alcohol impairs brain function, judgment, alertness, coordination, and reflexes. The issue many times is the narrative of a drunken sexual encounter is looked at with minimal scrutiny until it’s too late. By then, the damage is done and another victim undergoes a completely avoidable situation.
Getting a handle on alcohol use across college campuses as well as educating students about sexual assault can help combat these awful statistics plaguing universities everywhere. Schools are hoping that by implementing educational programs, tragedies can be avoided.
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