The devastating psychological and sometimes physical effect sexual assault has on its victims is undeniable. In addition to being traumatized, victims of sexual assault may become pregnant, contract a sexually transmitted disease or suffer internal injuries.
The Legal Definition of Sexual Assault
The U.S. Department of Justice defines sexual assault as “any type of sexual behavior or contact occurring without the explicit consent of the recipient”. The U.S. DOJ further clarifies sexual assault as forced intercourse, incest, forced sodomy, fondling, attempted rape and child molestation.
Although violent crime rates against U.S. college students have declined over the past 20 years, rates of sexual assault have stayed the same for both male and female victims. According to the U. S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, about one in 170 female college students are victimized by a sexual assault on campus every year. Other research surveying over 100,000 college students attending 27 schools found that 20 percent of female undergrads were victims of at least one sexual assault during their four years at college.
Alcohol Is Always Prominent
According to The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIH) “Researchers consistently have found that men who have been drinking alcohol commit approximately one-half of all sexual assaults. Depending on the sample studied and the measures used, the estimates for alcohol use among perpetrators have ranged from 34 to 74 percent. Similarly, approximately one-half of all sexual assault victims report that they were drinking alcohol at the time of the assault, with estimates ranging from 30 to 79 percent”.
So, the annual number of sexual assaults is approximately 208,050. Using 50% as a reasonable average (above), the approximate number of alcohol-related sexual assaults is at least 104,025.
Influence of Alcohol
Although being drunk should never be used or thought of as an excuse for sexual assault, alcohol promotes a biased perception of someone’s sexual motives, interferes with understanding communication regarding sexual consent and aggrandizes misperceptions about another person’s sexual motives. In fact, increasing rates of sexual assault among undergraduates on higher education campuses may be attributed to peer-supported expectations that students engage in weekend binge drinking.
Previous research regarding who is more likely to commit sexual assault on campus suggests that male students belong to fraternities may be more likely to condone rape/sexual assault compared to non-fraternity male students. Since fraternities are known to heavily influence the “party” culture of universities and colleges, psychologists believe that fraternity brothers embracing token resistance (believing women say no but really mean yes) and rape myth acceptance could contribute to unacceptably high rates of campus sexual assault.
The sociological term “rape myth acceptance” defines a group of disturbing beliefs about rape that allow perpetrators (and many times, their male friends or family members) to justify their behavior. Examples of rape myth acceptance include women who are drunk, wear revealing clothes or act “slutty” are partially responsible for being sexually assaulted and men who are drunk and rape a girl really didn’t mean it.
In addition, men of all ages who victimize women sexually tend to be narcissistic, un-empathetic, hold a sense of entitlement when it comes to having sex and harbor feelings of hostility and anger towards women.
What is Being Done About Reducing Sexual Assaults on Campus?
Established in 2014 by President Barack Obama, the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault clearly re-defined the meaning of Title IX and proposed numerous measures to better respond to and prevent sexual assault on campus. Following passage of the WHTFPSSA, the U. S. Department of Education listed over 50 universities and colleges that they planned on investigating for possible violations of Title IX. Additionally, the Dept. of Education is also strongly encouraging colleges and universities begin improving on existing protocols for handling reported cases of sexual assault.
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