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Role of Alcohol

We know that alcohol can impair a person’s inhibitions and judgment. Sometimes this brings about good things—people are friendlier, funnier, and more talkative. But it can also mean not-so-good things—people take risks they wouldn't normally and they may find themselves in situations that are uncomfortable or unsafe. A national study found that each year as a result of alcohol abuse:¹ 

  • nearly 500,000 students have unprotected sex
  • more than 100,000 students are too intoxicated to know whether they consented to sexual intercourse
  • more than 70,000 students experience alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape

Alcohol and Sexual Assault

The majority of sexual assaults on college students involve alcohol—consumed by the victim, the offender, or both.² Although alcohol does not cause assaults, it can be a contributing factor. Alcohol is thought to increase the risk of sexual assault because*:

  • Perpetrators of sexual assault may use intoxication as an excuse to use aggressive sexual behavior
  • Some perpetrators choose to use alcohol as a method of coercion

  • When intoxicated, people are:

ο more likely to misinterpret the other person's level of sexual interest

ο less likely to be concerned with the other perosn's experience

ο less likely to accurately evaluate whether consent has been given 

  • Victims who are intoxicated may be less able to effectively resist an assault (especially if s/he is unconscious)

 Alcohol and Coercion

The use of alcohol for sexual purposes can often be a coercive tactic. Although coercive tactics like pressuring someone to drink in order to have sex may not necessarily meet the legal definition of sexual assault, it is morally questionable. Coercion undermines the campus community of safety, trust, and honor. Examples of coercive behaviors include:

  • encouraging someone to disregard personal boundaries
  • actively pressuring someone to drink
  • supplying someone with alcohol for the sole purpose of engaging in sex with that person

 

¹Task Force on the National Advisory Council on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (2002). A call to action: Changing the culture of drinking at U.S. colleges. Washington, DC: National Institutes of Health.
²Knight, et al. (2002). Alcohol abuse and dependence among U.S. College Students. Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 63: 263-270.
³Abbey, A. (2002). Alcohol-related sexual assault: a common problem among college students. Journal of Studies on Alcohol, Supplement No. 14, 118-128.
*The Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse and Violence Prevention (2005). Sexual violence and alcohol and other drug use on campus.