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College Rapes Tied to Binge Drinking

Study finds rising rates go hand-in-hand

THURSDAY, Feb. 12, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- Binge drinking and rape seem to go hand-in-hand on U.S. college campuses.

A new study has found colleges and universities with higher rates of binge drinking also have more rapes. In addition, nearly three-quarters of rape victims reported being intoxicated at the time of the attack.

Rape victim advocates are critical of the findings, which appear in a recent issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol.

"Binge drinking is unhealthy. No one questions that, [but] putting the blame for rape on alcohol is an excuse. In reality, the decision of the attacker to commit rape is the only cause of that crime," says Jamie Zuieback, a spokeswoman for the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network in Washington, D.C. "We've worked very hard to foster a simple, undisputable understanding that rapists alone are responsible for this decision to commit this heinous crime. I think that this kind of study can be very harmful to that message. This is a crime. It's criminal behavior, period."

The study authors deny they have done this. "We're not blaming these women. The men who raped them are the guilty parties," says study author Henry Wechsler, director of College Alcohol Studies at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston. "We're pointing out the danger of certain high-drinking situations."

What's more, Wechsler and his colleagues are hoping the findings will be used to ramp up college prevention programs. "Most efforts around drinking are tied to automobile fatalities, and people are generally aware of this connection," Wechsler says. "In the public, there's less of a realization of the relationship of heavy alcohol use to rape. There may be a number of incidents where this is reported as occurring, but there hasn't been a quantification of this before now on the college scene."

Regardless of its exact consequences, binge drinking is indisputably a major problem on most college campuses, as is rape. Previous research has indicated alcohol is associated with at least half of sexual assaults on female college students.

The current study analyzed data compiled from 119 U.S. colleges and universities participating in three Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Study surveys over three years. In total, the surveys involved almost 24,000 women.

Binge drinking was defined as consuming five or more drinks in a row for men and four or more drinks in a row for women at least once in the past two weeks.

A school's binge drinking rate was the percentage of students classified as binge or heavy episodic drinkers. High heavy episodic binge drinking schools had more than 50 percent of students in this category; medium heavy had 36 percent to 50 percent of students in this category; and low had 0 to 35 percent classified as binge drinkers.

Almost one in 20 (4.7 percent) of women reported being raped, and 72 percent of the victims reported being intoxicated while being raped.

Women who attended schools with high and medium heavy episodic drinking rates had, respectively, 1.8-fold and 1.5-fold increased odds of being raped while intoxicated compared to women at schools with low rates.

Women at rural schools were 1.3 times as likely to be raped while intoxicated compared to those in non-rural schools. Students from the South and North Central regions of the country were, respectively, 1.3 and 1.4 times likelier to be raped while intoxicated compared to students from the West.

In addition, women who were under 21, lived in sorority houses, used illicit drugs and drank heavily in high school had a higher risk of being raped while intoxicated.

"Because of the strong connection between alcohol and rape -- and because of the findings that nearly three-quarters of the rapes that are reported are connected to alcohol and occur under the influence, when a woman is unable to resist -- we need to tie this topic to the alcohol prevention programs in college campuses, and particularly in sites where there is more drinking," Wechsler says. "We want college alcohol prevention programs to take cognizance of this and to include this as a major topic."

"Alcohol and drugs disinhibit people," says Paul Rinaldi, associate director of the Addiction Institute of New York City. "[In] a lot of these young women, their judgment is impaired. Their radar is clouded with alcohol. When they're clearheaded, they might say, 'This guy is not someone I want to be alone with.'"

That's not to say the victim is to blame, Rinaldi stresses.

More information

For more on preventing sexual assault and helping victims, visit Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network. For more findings from the College Alcohol Study, visit the Harvard School of Public Health.

SOURCES: Henry Wechsler, Ph.D., director, College Alcohol Studies, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston; Jamie Zuieback, spokeswoman, Rape Abuse & Incest National Network, Washington, D.C.; Paul Rinaldi, Ph.D., associate director, Addiction Institute of New York, New York City; January 2004 Journal of Studies on Alcohol
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