Posted on: September 16, 2022

Alcohol and Sexual Assault: Making College Campuses Safer

alcohol and assault

College campuses provide a sense of security because it creates the illusion that everyone knows each other and watches out for one another. Unfortunately, this is not always the reality and there are perpetrators who take advantage of this sense of comfort and safety by committing sexual assault.

Any sexual activity that you do not consent to is sexual assault. The term "sexual assault" is sometimes used to describe actions such as rape, forced kissing, unwanted touching, secretly recording or photographing sexual activity, and forced sexual activity for money. People of any age or gender can be the victim of sexual assault.

As a society, we can prepare to prevent sexual assault situations and make college campuses safer. Students can take precautions to ensure their own safety and learn how to intervene to stop crimes like sexual assault from happening. In this post, we’re going to talk about the relationship between sexual assault and alcohol and provide methods to help prevent sexual assault on college campuses. 

Sexual Assault and Alcohol

Alcohol's impact on sexual behavior and perceptions is not yet fully studied. However, it has been found that alcohol usage is one of the most significant risk factors for sexual violence even if it doesn't directly cause sexual assault. 

Drinking alcohol excessively raises the risk of sexual assault. Ethanol, a chemical in alcoholic drinks, adversely affects the brain regions that control sexual and aggressive behavior. Both the victim and/or the perpetrator may be impaired by alcohol consumption. Aggression, as well as sexual desire and emotional instability, may all be increased during alcohol consumption. Alcohol also impairs the victim's ability to consciously consent to sexual activity. 

However, in a sexual assault situation, the perpetrator is the one to be held responsible for their violent sexual behavior, not the victim. Most sexual assaults are performed by perpetrators who feel more powerful and aggressive after alcohol consumption. 

What percentage of college sexual assaults involve alcohol?

College is a time when students become of legal drinking age and are living with more freedom and independence than they are used to. The party culture on any college campus can be intense and lively, and it often involves high amounts of alcohol. 

According to a Washington Post poll, excessive drinking is one of the most important predictors of sexual assault in college. In fact, the poll found that women who admitted to drinking more than they should, reported being sexually assaulted more than twice as frequently as those who said they drank moderately or not at all. This means that the campus party scene also plays a role in the prevalence of sexual assault in college.

Research shows that 20–25% of women will experience sexual assault while in college, and at least 50% of sexual assaults involve excessive drinking. 

Moreover, the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) reports that 75% of rapes occurred to intoxicated victims. Their data also found that when compared to students who live off campus, students who live on campus are more likely to be victims of forced sexual activity. Another alarming finding is that most college women predict some form of sexual violence during college. 

Why might alcohol increase the likelihood of sexual assaults?

Studies show that alcohol consumption by the perpetrator and/or the victim increases the likelihood of acquaintance sexual assault occurring through multiple pathways. This is related to alcohol’s impact on psychological, cognitive, and motor functions, which contribute to sexual assault. Additionally, alcohol reduces the perception of danger that might warn a student about possible assault. 

Why is alcohol used so often by perpetrators to commit sexual assault?

Drinking alcohol can increase the possibility of misperception, raising the risk of sexual assault. 

A study on the link between alcohol, misperception, and sexual assault developed a model to explain the role of alcohol in sexual assaults perpetrated by acquaintances. The model suggests that alcohol acts at two distinct points during the interaction between the perpetrator and the victim to increase the likelihood of sexual assault.

However, this model is challenging to properly test because researchers must rely on participants’ retrospective memories of sexual assault scenarios. Nevertheless, a study among college men revealed that increased alcohol consumption in social settings increased the participants’ misperceptions of women’s cues. The severity of such misperceptions, in turn, was related to the frequency with which the men committed sexual assault. In a separate study among college women, drinking in situations where men misperceived the women’s sexual intentions increased the likelihood that the women became victims of a sexual assault. 

Sexual Assault Prevention on College Campuses 

Consider these tips to help reduce the risk for many types of crimes, including sexual assault and when looking out for your friends in social settings: 

  • Locate campus resources such as the campus health center, campus police station, security escorts, emergency phones, psychological services, plus local sexual assault services. 
  • Be aware of your surroundings when moving around campus or in the surrounding neighborhood. 
  • Be careful about sharing your location on social media platforms. 
  • Think of backup plans for possible risky situations. 
  • Be cautious by locking your door and windows while you sleep and when you leave your room. 
  • When attending a party, go with people you trust and agree to watch out for each other and plan to leave together. If plans change, make sure to contact other people in your group. 
  • Don’t leave your drink unattended and watch out for your friends’ drinks if possible. 
  • Know your alcohol limits by keeping track of how many drinks you’ve had. 
  • If you want to get out of a situation immediately and are concerned about alarming or offending someone, make up an excuse. 
  • Look after your friends and if something doesn’t seem right, it probably isn’t. You can create a distraction or ask directly. You can also create an excuse to help a friend leave a situation that you think may not be safe. 

No number of tips or precautions can completely stop sexual assault on college campuses or ensure safety. Sexual assault can happen to anyone, on top of other on campus crimes. It’s important to remember that there are various resources on and off campus offering help and support to help you feel protected. 

For more information on alcohol and sexual assault and making college campuses safer, visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) website, other anti-sexual violence organizations, and your campus’ resources.