girls lying on ground with party cups

Does Alcohol Fuel Sexual Assaults on College Campuses?


Sober Recovery Expert Author

girls lying on ground with party cups

Sexual attacks are despicable whether it happens on or off campus. However, the nature of the campus rapist is different from any other perpetrator, one of which is due to the ever-present college drinking environment.

The Scenario

Much like gang members, many college males seek the approval of their peers and long for a sense of belonging. So when their chosen group approves the practice of sexually assaulting women, they succumb to social pressures and follow.

Sexual assaults occur regularly on campuses across the nation, some recently making national headlines. The question remains: is alcohol the guiding force behind sexual assaults on college campuses?

A typical scenario would begin by inviting a coed to a party. After giving her some spiked sweet punch and making sure she is extremely intoxicated, the perpetrator (or in many cases, perpetrators) would then rape her without her even knowing. These incidences go unreported as the victim is too ashamed of herself for allowing the incident to occur. College administrators need to address both the behavior of the criminal as well as the victim’s in order to make a change.

The Astonishing Truth

Psychologist David Lisak conducted a study of campus sex offenders in 2002. He knew most rapes go unreported so he used a bit of stealth in his questioning of 1,800 men at the University of Massachusetts in Boston.

He asked these men a wide range of questions about their sexual experiences, one of which was, “Have you ever had sex with an adult when they didn’t want to because you used physical force?” The responses astonished him.

It turned out that 120 men of his sampling, about 6%, had raped women they knew. 66% of men reported either attempted rape or rape with the vast majority of them reporting repeated offenses.

The men in Lisak’s sample were responsible for no less than 439 rapes, none of which were reported. Surprisingly, Lisak found his subjects very willing to give details of their conquests. These men carefully and methodically planned and executed their assaults. With alcohol as their main drug of choice, they sequentially invited girls to a party, got them drunk and raped them.

Even more shocking, not one of the men saw this is as a criminal act. In fact, they bragged about the rapes to friends who endorsed the behavior. In this case, rape is not only socially accepted behavior among their peers but also commendable.

What We’re Doing

Currently, California lawmakers are considering a measure to require all colleges that receive public funds to define a standard of consent.

This goal is a growing trend among universities in an effort to stop the crime of sexual assault. Schools across the country from Yale to UCLA have been adopting standards to discern when consent is given for sex and when it is not.

The California senate passed legislation in May and went before the senate in August to require institutions accepting public funds for student financial assistance to set an “affirmative consent standard” that could be used to investigate and adjudicate sexual assault allegations.

The standard would be defined as “an affirmative, unambiguous and conscious decision” by each party to engage in sexual activity. Consent would not be defined as silence or lack of resistance, or if the victim is drunk, drugged, unconscious or asleep.

This is such a new concept that it is, of course, controversial. However, whether or not the proposition becomes law, it seems to be a step in the right direction.

Surprisingly, while it is clear that alcohol plays a part in campus rape, it actually has more power in setting the victim up for assault than it does in releasing the inhibitions of the perpetrator. Though college administrators need to put far more constructive effort into eradicating the problem of sexual assault on campus, the real answer may lie in parents teaching their children to live ethical lives--no matter the external pressures that tell them otherwise.

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