Study links female alcohol use to victimization

Five or more alcoholic drinks increased women’s chances for sexual aggression by nine times.

by Matthew Gruchow

Female University students might add sexual assault to the list of dangers associated with drinking, according to a recent study.

The Research Institute on Addictions, at the University at Buffalo, showed a woman’s chance of being sexually assaulted increased with her alcohol consumption.

Women in the study were nine times more likely to experience sexual aggression after consuming five or more alcoholic drinks in a day than on days when they did not drink, the study said.

Risks remained elevated even on days when the women drank fewer than five drinks, according the study.

The University of Minnesota reported 12 on-campus forcible sex offenses, according to its police Web site.

“I wasn’t surprised that the risk was higher on drinking days,” said Kathleen A. Parks, a senior research scientist at the addictions institute. “I guess I was surprised by how much higher it was.”

The study followed 94 women during a six-week period, Parks said. The results of the research were originally published in the April issue of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

Parks said she has spent 13 years studying the effects of alcohol on women.

“We know much less about substance abuse in women than in men, although the gap is closing,” Parks said.

Advocates and researchers have been studying the link between substance abuse and sexual assault for a long time, said Jennifer Witt, Minnesota Center Against Violence and Abuse document development coordinator.

“Obviously, a lot of people feel there’s been a correlation between college students and alcohol and sexual violence,” Witt said.

According to the Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault, 75 percent of men and 55 percent of female college students involved in date rape had been drinking or using drugs.

First-year women were the most vulnerable to rape, according to the coalition.

Nationwide, the Department of Justice’s statistics for 2000 showed 20 percent to 25 percent of women will be raped while in college.

Parks said she hopes the study makes women more conscious of the risks between drinking and sexual aggression and that they take steps to protect themselves from sexual assault.

“I don’t think a lot of women are going to read this study,” Parks said. “I think a lot of them are going to read it and say ‘That’s not going to happen to me.’ “

Whether women are drinking heavily, they are not to blame for being victimized, Parks said.

“A victim is never to blame for an aggressive act that someone commits toward her,” Parks said. “This is not blaming the victim.”

First-year aerospace engineering student Trevor Fedie said the study might unfairly label men as aggressors.

Although he said the study’s results did not surprise him, he said men and women need to be responsible for their actions while drinking alcohol.

“I think some guys see an (intoxicated) woman as vulnerable and they might be more aggressive if they have the chance,” Fedie said.

But it’s not always men being sexually aggressive, said first-year genetics student Brianna Johnson.

“Sometimes, it’s the other way around,” Johnson said. “They can get themselves in (compromising) positions.”

The link between sexual aggression and alcohol use is common knowledge among college students, Johnson said.

Lora Wichser, a German history junior, said the study’s results make sense.

Students can still enjoy socializing and drinking, and keep their safety a priority, Wichser said.

One way to do this is to drink with people you trust, she said. Many students, however, do not adhere to this advice, she said.

“It’s most likely that they don’t know the people and certainly not enough to trust the majority of people that they are sort of giving their safety to,” she said.