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- NATIONAL RESOLUTION SUPPORTS FIRST AMENDMENT RIGHTS
- VICTIMS OF RAPE — AND ALCOHOL
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Newsletter > March 2004 > "VICTIMS OF RAPE — AND ALCOHOL"
VICTIMS OF RAPE — AND ALCOHOL
Tim Burke, Manley Burke, firstname.lastname@example.org
The Journal of Studies on Alcohol published in its February issue a major new study “Correlates of Rape While Intoxicated in a National Sample of College Women.”1 The results came from 119 colleges participating in three Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Surveys. A total of more than 23,000 college women took part.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the study found a high correlation between alcohol abuse, particularly heavy episodic drinking, and rape. Rape was found to be more common on college campuses with higher rates of binge drinking and alcohol use was a contributing factor in most college rapes.
Other factors which the study identified as significant risk factors for becoming rape victims included being under the age of 21, using illicit drugs, and having had a history of binge drinking in high school.
A lead author of the study, Meichun Mohler-Kuo, Sc.D., of the Harvard School of Public Health, said “The study reveals that a woman’s chance of being raped is far more pronounced on campuses where the student body as a whole engages in a high rate of binge drinking and when individuals consume a large amount of alcohol.”
Another co-author of the study, George W. Dowdall, Ph.D., of St. Joseph’s University, said “Binge drinking isn’t a harmless right of passage, but a risk factor in violence against women. Institutions of higher education need to change the culture of college drinking in order to make colleges safer and healthier environments.”
The study examined responses from women about the circumstances of their rapes. Importantly, the study properly defined rape not just to include rapes accomplished through force or threats of force, but also the third category of rape while intoxicated. The last category was determined by responses to this question – “Since the beginning of the school year, have you had sexual intercourse when you were so intoxicated that you were unable to consent?” Among the women who reported being raped since the beginning of the school year, 72% indicated they had been raped while intoxicated.
The study looked at a series of characteristics of rape victims, whether they were underage or not; whether they resided on or off campus; whether they lived in a sorority house or not; whether they were a sorority member; did they engage in heavy episodic drinking in high school; how frequently did they engage in heavy episodic drinking in college; and did they use drugs? The study found that women who lived in sorority houses had a higher percentage of rape while intoxicated than those who did not. The highest risk factor of the victims of rape was frequent heavy episodic drinking by the victim.
While not focusing exclusively on sororities, comments in the study regarding sorority women being at risk are particularly troubling. The study states “The finding of higher rates of rape among the sorority members is worth noting…. Consistent with previous studies on sorority women … our study showed that women who belong to sororities and women who reside in a sorority house are at increased risk for rape while intoxicated and other rape. For college women, joining a sorority places them in a peer group that has selected them because they hold values similar to those of the peer group. It offers them extensive opportunities to socialize with men who have joined fraternities. Being in a sorority thus involves more than joining an organization. It is a marker for a particular peer group and social environment.”
Citing previous studies, the new study argues that “… fraternities attract men who drink more than average and these higher levels of drinking predict perpetuation of sexual aggression. Joining a sorority raises the likelihood one will meet more men who drink heavily compared with other student groups, and, in this heavier drinking context, rape is more likely. The peer group norms in sororities and fraternities are to drink heavily, act in an uninhibited manner and engage in casual sex….”
Citing another earlier study, the authors state that “women experience tension between the peer group norms to engage in casual sex and the still-existing double standard that pre-marital sex has different meanings for men than for women. [The earlier studies] suggest that women use alcohol to relieve this tension and to disinhibit their decision making.”
Finally, the study noted that:
“Many sorority women are new to the heavy drinking scene. We found that more than half (59%) of sorority house residents who were not heavy episodic drinkers in high school, become heavy episodic drinkers in college, whereas only one in four (28%) women not living in sorority houses did. This finding suggests the sorority house residents who are relatively new to heavy episodic drinking are at increased risk of being raped or forced to have sex while under the influence and unable to refuse.”
These disturbing results only serve to re-emphasize the need for alcohol prevention programs and sexual assault education. Mary P. Koss, Ph.D., Professor of Public Health at the University of Arizona, and a co-author of the study, said: “Men need education about what constitutes rape, and women should be better informed of strategies to avoid risky situations. Previous research shows that more women get raped while under the influence of alcohol than under the influence of any other so-called ‘date rape’ drug, such as GHB and Rohypnol.”
While the comments on sorority membership are alarming, it should be pointed out that the percentages of sorority women experiencing rape are still very small and that frequent heavy episodic drinking and recent drug use are higher risk factors than living in a sorority house.
The comments on women in general and sorority women, in particular, need to be read cautiously so as not to be interpreted as blaming the victim. To avoid creating that impression, the authors, albeit deep into the study acknowledge that the person who commits rape is “responsible in both the legal and moral sense, and we must view rape from that perspective.”
The following specific suggestions are made for college-supported education and rape prevention programs:
1) Prevention programs must give increased attention to educating the male student that one of the first questions he must ask himself before initiating sex with a woman is whether she is capable of giving consent.
2) College men must be educated for their own protection that intoxication is a stop sign for sex.
3) College women need to be warned not only about the loss of control through heavy drinking, but also about the extra dangers imposed in situations where many people are drinking heavily.
Those recommendations are equally applicable to fraternities and sororities.
1 Journal of Studies on Alcohol, January 2004.