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Try out PMC Labs and tell us what you think. Learn More. Antoine, Detroit, Michigan Sexual assault is extremely common among college students. At least half of these sexual assaults involve alcohol consumption by the perpetrator, the victim or both. Although existing research addresses some important questions, there are many gaps.

Methodological limitations of past research are noted, and suggestions are made for future research. In addition, recommendations are made for college prevention programs and policy initiatives. Alcohol-related sexual assault is a common occurrence on college campuses. I got sick drunk; I was slumped over the toilet vomiting. He grabbed me and dragged me into his room and raped me. I had been a virgin and felt it was all my fault for going back to his house when no one else was home. If no alcohol was consumed, I would never have crossed that line. First, information is provided about the prevalence of sexual assault and alcohol-involved sexual assault among college students.

Then theories about how alcohol contributes to sexual assault are described. After making suggestions for future research, the article concludes with a discussion of prevention and policy issues. The term sexual assault is used by researchers to describe the full range of forced sexual acts including forced touching or kissing; verbally coerced intercourse; and physically forced vaginal, oral and anal penetration.

The term rape is typically reserved for sexual behaviors that involve some type of penetration due to force or threat of force; a lack of consent; or inability to give consent due to age, intoxication or mental status Bureau of Justice Statistics, ; Koss, Thus, most research focuses on female victims and male perpetrators. The most methodologically rigorous study of sexual assault prevalence was completed by Koss et al.

Similar prevalence rates have been found in studies conducted at colleges throughout the United States Abbey et al. Most of these studies have been cross-sectional. In the prospective study that followed students for the longest period of time, Humphrey and White surveyed women from one university beginning in the fall of their first year and ending in the spring of their fourth year.

Annual prevalence rates were alarmingly high, although they declined slightly each year. Greene and Navarro reported that none of the college women in their prospective survey reported their sexual assault to any college official.

A few studies have focused on prevalence rates among minority students. Rates of sexual assault experienced by black, Hispanic, Asian and white college Lets not play women sex both of us want this appear to be relatively comparable Abbey et al. College men acknowledge committing sexual assault, although at lower rates than these acts are reported by women. In Koss et al. Similar have been found by other researchers Abbey et al. About two thirds of college men who acknowledge committing sexual assault report being multiple offenders Abbey et al. Koss and her colleagues Koss, ; Koss et al.

Most studies do not include sufficiently detailed questions to determine if the quantity of alcohol consumed is an important factor. An exception is a study by Muehlenhard and Lintonwhich compared the characteristics of dates that did and did not involve sexual assault. Sexually assaultive dates were not more likely than nonassaultive dates to involve drinking; however, heavy drinking was more common on sexually assaultive dates. Typically, if either the victim or the perpetrator is drinking alcohol, then both are.

For example, in Abbey et al. In general, alcohol consumption is more common among whites than blacks Caetano et al. Thus, not surprisingly, alcohol-related sexual assaults appear to be more common among white college students than among black college students Abbey et al. Rates of alcohol-related sexual assault have not been examined in other ethnic groups. Overall, the characteristics of alcohol-involved sexual assaults and sexual assaults that do not involve alcohol are similar. Alcohol-involved sexual assaults more often occur among college students who know each other only casually and who spent time together at a party or bar Abbey et al.

The fact that alcohol consumption and sexual assault frequently co-occur does not demonstrate that alcohol causes sexual assault. The causal direction could be the opposite; men may consciously or unconsciously drink alcohol prior to committing sexual assault to have an excuse for their behavior. Alternatively, other variables may simultaneously cause both alcohol consumption and sexual assault. For example, personality traits, such as impulsivity, or peer group norms may lead some men both to drink heavily and to commit sexual assault. It is likely that each of these causal pathways explains some alcohol-involved sexual assaults.

A complex behavior such as sexual assault has multiple determinants both across different perpetrators and for any one perpetrator. Abbey proposed seven different explanations for the relationship between alcohol and sexual assault. An expanded version of this model is described below and is summarized in Figure 1 for a more thorough review, see Abbey et al. This model focuses on the most common type of sexual assault that occurs between men and women who know each other and are engaged in social interaction prior to the assault, the prototypic college sexual assault situation.

As can be seen in the figure, a combination of preexisting beliefs and situational factors contribute to acquaintance sexual assault. Alcohol has independent and synergistic effects. Some general information about causes of acquaintance rape are described below because alcohol often exacerbates dynamics that can arise without alcohol. Two general caveats are needed before the literature supporting each element of the model is reviewed. First, there are personality characteristics e.

This literature has been extensively reviewed elsewhere Seto and Barbaree, ; White and Koss, Consequently, this article focuses on attitudinal and situational factors that interact with alcohol consumption to increase the likelihood of sexual assault occurring among college students. These factors are more likely to be amenable to change, and suggestions for prevention and policy initiatives are made at the end of this article.

A second important caveat concerns the relationship between explanations and causal responsibility.

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As the quotes at the beginning of this article indicate, perpetrators often use alcohol to excuse sexual assault perpetration, whereas victims often feel guilty because they were drinking. However, men are legally and morally responsible for acts of sexual assault they commit, regardless of whether or not they were intoxicated or felt that the woman had led them on ly.

Although such beliefs may sound outdated, surveys of college students consistently find that men are expected to initiate sexual relations and that women are expected to set the limits on how much sexual activity occurs Clark et al. Both men and women agree that there are circumstances that make forced sex acceptable.

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For example, McAuslan et al. More than half the men thought verbal pressure was acceptable if she kissed him, if they had dated a long time or if he felt she had led him on. Overall, fewer women than men perceived pressure or force as acceptable, although the rank ordering of circumstances was comparable for both genders.

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Malamuth asked college men how likely it was that they would rape a woman if they were certain that there would be no negative consequences. On average, one-third of college men indicated that they would be at least somewhat likely to rape a woman if they could be certain they would not be caught. The data from these two lines of research are disturbing because they demonstrate how commonly held beliefs set the stage for date rape and why it is so seldom perceived as a crime.

As is described in more detail below, these beliefs are more likely to be acted on when men have been drinking alcohol. Men anticipate feeling more powerful, sexual and aggressive after drinking alcohol Brown et al. These expectancies can have a power of their own, independent of the pharmacological effects of alcohol. Expectancies tend to become self-fulfilling Snyder and Stukas, In one study, college men who had perpetrated sexual assault when intoxicated expected alcohol to increase male and female sexuality more than did the college men who perpetrated sexual assault when sober Abbey et al.

Several studies have demonstrated that college men who thought they were drinking alcohol were more sexually aroused by depictions of forcible rape than college men who did not think they had consumed alcohol George and Marlatt, ; George and Norris, George and Marlatt argued that the belief that one has consumed alcohol provides justification for engaging in socially inappropriate sexual behavior. Many college men perceive women who drink in bars as being sexually promiscuous and, therefore, appropriate targets for sexual aggression Kanin, ; Martin and Hummer, In vignette studies, women who drink alcohol are frequently perceived as being more sexually available and sexually promiscuous than women who do not drink alcohol.

For example, George et al.

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