Temperance is taught to many of us as an intrinsic virtue at a young age. The consumption of alcohol in moderation or not at all has been the subject of many a public service announcement and high school health class. However, we also live in a society that glorifies the party lifestyle, particularly in college. This mixed messaging might contribute to many sexual assault cases on college campuses. According to the recent AAU Survey students who are relatively new to colleges and universities are more likely to experience a sexual assault. The study cites that because new students are not as familiar with situations that may lead to an incident of sexual misconduct, they are therefore more likely to potentially experience an incident of sexual misconduct. In the AAU study, among 16.9 percent of freshman females reported sexual contact by physical force or incapacitation. While the study does not highlight alcohol consumption as the single mode of incapacitation in the statistic, it is not a stretch to suspect alcohol played a role in a sizable portion of this statistic. Research completed by the NIH states 25 percent of college men report having committed sexual assault with the use of alcohol or drugs to incapacitate their victims. Furthermore, the NIH study about alcohol and sexual assault reported that in approximately half of all sexual assaults cases either the perpetrator, victim, or both had been drinking.
The statistics from the AAU Survey and NIH study are both a blessing and a curse. On one end, we can see the severity of the issue, especially on college campuses. When we take into consideration that these numbers are likely modest estimates, as many individuals deny admitting to either experiencing or perpetrating sexual assault, the numbers are particularly alarming. One the other end, it is difficult to grasp a simple solution to this overwhelming problem. Sociocultural factors such as attitudes about alcohol consumption by women influence both the perpetrator’s actions during and prior to a sexual assault, as well as the victim’s perception of the assault afterwards. In our society, women who drink alcohol are often perceived as being more promiscuous than other women (NIH Study).
Additionally, men are granted more leniency when it comes to their behavior after alcohol consumption. As such, an attitudinal shift in our society’s understanding of drinking habits by men and women, and its role in sexual misconduct, is necessary to reduce the number of sexual assaults in our community.Within the NIH study, the authors note in some cases that, “ the desire to commit a sexual assault may actually cause alcohol consumption (e.g., when a man drinks alcohol before committing a sexual assault in order to justify his behavior)”. Sexual assault occurs when there is someone present to commit the act. In these cases, alcohol is an accessory to the crime. Authors in the NIH study also note that sexual assault victims are targeted even before they begin to drink, and that perpetrators “plan and premeditate their attacks, using sophisticated strategies to groom their victims for attack, and to isolate them physically”. As a society, it is simpler for us to focus on alcohol as the source of the problem as people tend to make poor choices while under the influence. While alcohol is a factor in some cases of sexual assault, it is not the cause of a sexual assault. The shift in responsibility from the individual who chose to commit the crime, onto the means by which sexual misconduct occurred, is the easy narrative to accept in these cases. It is more difficult to confront a reality in which one individual used another as a means to an end.
Author: Natalie Thompson