Home / The Physical & Psychological Effects of Alcohol / Sexual Assaults on College Campuses Involving Alcohol

Sexual assault is a major topic on the news and across the nation. It is a reality in our country that occurs in all areas of life. One common place where sexual assault frequently occurs is at college and university campuses, and alcohol plays a major role in this type of sexual assault.

College is often a place where young people first get a chance to really experiment with both sex and alcohol, and often the combination can lead to inappropriate and even dangerous situations for young women and sometimes for young men. Whether it happens because the person has gotten drunk and is taken advantage of, or a spiked drink or “date rape drug” has been purposefully used to create a situation where the intended victim of an assault is vulnerable or can’t fight back, alcohol is often used to facilitate the full range of sexual assault and rape on campus.

Statistics on Campus Sexual Assault and Alcohol

Many people are unaware of just how common campus sexual assault and rape are, not to mention how much alcohol is involved. The magazine Campus Safety presented the following facts and statistics, which highlight the prevalence of sexual assault and rape on college and university campuses:

  • About 20-25 percent of women will be sexually assaulted in college.
  • Men are also victims of sex crimes – nearly 90 percent of these are juvenile (under 17).
  • About 99 percent of sexual assault perpetrators are male.
  • For more than 12 percent of completed rapes, the victim is on a date with the perpetrator; this is also true for 35 percent of attempted rapes.
  • Students in sorority houses and on-campus living are more likely to be victims of sexual assault than those living off campus.
  • Students in fraternities are more likely to perpetrate sexual assault than non-fraternity men.
  • Male college athletes in aggressive sports were shown to be more likely to use sexual coercion and to demonstrate sexism, acceptance of violence, and hostility toward women.

Along with this, the following statistics demonstrate the prevalence of alcohol in these types of sexual assaults:

  • At least 50 percent of student sexual assaults involve alcohol.
  • Approximately 90 percent of rapes perpetrated by an acquaintance of the victim involve alcohol.
  • About 43 percent of sexual assault events involve alcohol use by the victim; 69 percent involve alcohol use by the perpetrator.
  • In one-third of sexual assaults, the aggressor is intoxicated.
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Campus Party Life and Alcohol

College has a reputation for being a time when young people can party as much as they want. Movies and TV shows perpetuate this stereotype, but it is also based in truth. As a time when students first become legally able to drink and are living with much less supervision than they are accustomed to, the party scene on any campus can be intense and vibrant, and it involves a great deal of alcohol. Fraternities and sororities contribute to this atmosphere; more than 50 percent of students in the Greek system report heavy drinking compared to only 35 percent of other students.

An article from the Washington Post highlights this, adding that a poll the Post conducted along with the Kaiser Family Foundation indicates heavy drinking is among the most meaningful predictors of sexual assault in college. In fact, the survey also indicated that women who said they drank more than they should are over twice as likely to be sexually assaulted as those who drank lightly or not at all. As a result, the party scene on campus is also a contributor to the incidence of sexual assault and rape in college.

Spiked Drinks and Date Rape Drugs

A complication of this dynamic between alcohol use, the party atmosphere on campus, and sexual assault, is the use of date rape drugs. Most assaults involve people who know one another, rather than a stranger who attacks an unsuspecting victim. In some cases, the aggressor will use some form of substance to lower the victim’s resistance or decrease their ability to fight back. The most common way this is done is through alcohol.

An Inquisitr report on date rape drugs discusses the numerous types of substances that are used in date rape situations. However, it also notes that alcohol is often the only drug that a potential perpetrator needs to increase a potential victim’s vulnerability. While students are being cautioned to keep their eyes on their drinks to make sure nothing is being put in them, they are not being reminded that the drinks themselves may create a risk. As a result, alcohol is simply another tool that allows the perpetuation of rape culture on campus.

Rape Culture

Research from Gender & Society attempts to parse the seeming prevalence of rape and other sexual assault on college campuses, looking at how the various campus contexts lend themselves to an encouragement of rape culture. The analysis takes into account that many colleges highlight the affluence and power of the male through idolizing male athletes and fraternities. This creates something of a power imbalance, with female athletes and sororities not being given the same value. This creates a dynamic that is favorable to male power over females, leading to an overall culture that encourages sexual assault.

There are those who dispute this concept. However, there is something to be said for the Campus Safety statistics about fraternity members and male athletes, and the fact that they are more likely than other men on campus to perpetrate sexual assault or hold dangerous attitudes toward women. The fact that these groups also have higher levels of alcohol use than others on campus is another factor.

Peer Pressure to Drink

Of course, women drink a lot of alcohol in college as well, exhibiting the same desire to expand their experiences when living on their own for the first time as men. As such, there is a lot of peer pressure in college for students to drink, leading to situations where women may consume more alcohol than they intend, leaving them vulnerable to assault.

As discussed by the Department of Applied Psychology at New York University, the level of an individual’s drinking in college is often centered on the fact that individuals tend to base their sense of self on their perceived sense of what their friends do. So, if they perceive that their peers drink a lot, they will too, even if the actuality is different from the perception. This leads to higher levels of drinking than the individual might otherwise typically pursue. By helping to create a more realistic picture of peer behaviors, it is thought that this behavior can be decreased. However, at present, it contributes to the challenges of alcohol and its involvement in campus sexual assault.

Reporting and Getting Help for Sexual Assault

Another sobering statistic reported by the Campus Safety article is that more than half of women who experience sexual assault of any kind on campus never tell anyone. In many cases, this is because women feel they may be belittled, disbelieved, or denied support. Often, the perpetrators of sexual assault are defended over the victim, who is shamed or even blamed for behavior seen to be contributing to the assault, including if the individual is drunk.

However, there are groups that can support individuals who have experienced sexual assault on campus. These include:

  • End Rape on Campus, a national advocacy group that provides direct support to survivors of campus rape and sexual assault
  • On-campus support groups, such as the one at Wesleyan University, which can be found on numerous campuses
  • Feminists for Life, which has a specific college sexual assault support program

Along with groups like these, there are also treatment programs for alcohol abuse that can provide education and teach skills regarding drinking on campus, how to manage peer pressure and other triggers that lead to drinking too much, and additional information about dealing with the prevalence of alcohol in college and the ways in which it contributes to high risk of sexual assault, both regarding the victims and the perpetrators.