The Research Assignment is a brief overview of interesting academic work.
The big idea
One out of every three. This is the number of women in college who say they were a victim of sexual assault when they were in high school or college. This is according to my new peer-reviewed research in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence, which is based on 2015 survey data.
That figure is significantly higher than it was in the mid-1980s when I conducted the first such national survey among college students at 32 institutions. At the time, the number was one in four.
Of these incidents, 75% involved victims who admitted they were incompetent by alcohol at the time of the assault. In the mid-1980s, that number stood at 50%.
For the study, sexual assault was defined in accordance with the federal definition of rape. That definition goes beyond forced rape. This includes oral, anal or vaginal penetration when the victim is too drunk to agree.
Among colleagues, one in 19 admitted during the first survey that they had committed sexual assault while in high school or college. That number increased to one in eight.
One thing that has not changed is that the vast majority of college men who responded to the survey and admitted that they committed sexual assault say that they committed the sexual assault while their victims were incompetent by alcohol. Back then and now, that figure stood at about nine out of every 10 college men who admitted to having sexual assault. This means that the most common scenario for sexual assault of women in college involves men taking advantage of women when they are incompetent.
For the first survey, conducted in 1985, 6,159 students responded to the questions. For the second survey, which I conducted in 2015 and analyzed over the past few years, 2,471 students responded. Both surveys received response rates of more than 90%.
Why it matters
These findings matter because colleges are trying to implement programs and strategies to reduce irresponsible drinking and the role it plays in sexual assault. If the incidence of rape increases instead of down, it casts doubt on the effectiveness of these programs.
Previous research – including by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta – has already found that these approaches to preventing alcohol abuse and associated sexual harm are largely ineffective. That is, they do not reduce problematic drinking and also do not discourage offenders from taking advantage of victims when they are incompetent.
Researchers have suggested that a more comprehensive approach to preventing sexual violence is needed. This includes changing drinking environments.
Changing the drinking environment may involve efforts to change or regulate practices at the pubs and liquor stores on or near college campuses, such as “2-for-1” drinks special offers, beer in jars, “ladies nights” in which women pay less than . men for alcohol or cover costs, and sponsored drinking games, such as beer pong or flip cup.