“A Prospective Study of Sexual Assault and Alcohol Use Among First-Year College Women”, a study recently published in the journal Violence and Victims, examined the relationship between frequent binge drinking, frequent drinking, and sexual assault victimization. The authors hypothesized that: “a) frequency of alcohol use would predict sexual assaults, b) frequency of heavy episodic drinking would predict sexual assaults, and c) prior alcohol consumption would be a strong predictor of later alcohol consumption, whereas experiencing a sexual assault would be, at best, a week predictor.”

The study found that alcohol increased the perceived “suitability” of women as victims of sexual aggression :

 First, women who have been drinking are perceived as more vulnerable because of the cognitive and physiological effects of alcohol…Second, the consumption of alcohol has been theorized to result in a ‘focusing’ or ‘myopia’ effect (Steele & Josephs, 1990), such that alcohol consumption limits the individual’s ability to focus on all but the most salient cues in a given situation…Third, women who have been drinking are also perceived as more sexually uninhibited and available than sober women (pg 89-90).

As a prevention educator, I cannot ignore that there is some relationship between alcohol and sexual assault (as this study examined) but I wonder what the best way to talk about alcohol and its impact on sexual violence without traveling down the path of victim blaming. I worry about walking the fine line between delivering primary prevention and giving a “10 ways to prevent yourself from being sexual assaulted” talk.
For me the answer always comes back to culture change and social norms change. Is there a culture that promotes both frequent binge drinking and sexual assault perpetration and if so, how can we start our education there, at the root cause of the problems? What experiences have you had addressing this topic?
A Prospective Study of Sexual Assault and Alcohol Use Among First-Year College Women
Emily R. Mouilso, MS, Sarah Fischer, PhD, and Karen S. Calhoun, PhD. Violence and Victims, Volume 27, Number 1, 2012 , pp. 78-94(17)
This study prospectively examined the relation between alcohol use and sexual assault in a sample (N = 319) of first-year college women. Both frequency of drinking and frequency of binge drinking were measured. Over the course of their freshman year, 19.3% reported experiencing at least one sexual assault. Frequent binge drinking and frequent drinking predicted a subsequent sexual assault; however, experiencing a sexual assault did not predict changes in alcohol use. Frequent binge drinking demonstrated a stronger association with sexual assault than did frequent drinking. Findings help clarify the relation between alcohol use and sexual assault in college women and call for continued differentiation in assessment of alcohol use.