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Alcohol and sexual assault victimization: Research findings and future directions

While we know alcohol use is associated with at least half of all sexual assault cases, the relationship (and directionality) between sexual assault and alcohol use by victims and/or offenders is unclear. As such, one literature review focuses on this relationship between sexual assault, drinking, and post assault outcomes among individuals in both community and college student populations by examining studies from 2000 to the present. The review found that alcohol-related sexual assault is more prevalent among college women than comparable non-college women. The literature indicated that the relationship between sexual assault and alcohol can be explained by the effects of alcohol, risky situations and behaviors, and assault history. Physiological changes involving altered perception can lead to increased miscommunication about sexual interest, aggressive behaviors, and risk taking or decreased self-protection. Exposure to risky situations due to the social settings in which alcohol is consumed can also place individuals at higher risk. For example, settings that encourage excessive drinking, risky behaviors, close interaction, and little to no supervision place individuals at a heightened risk because there may be more motivated offenders and fewer trained bystanders. The review also found that alcohol use and sexual assault often have a cyclical relationship. For example, victimization can lead to the continuation or increase in post-assault alcohol consumption in order to cope with sexual assault, which then places an individual at risk for experiencing subsequent assaults.

Take away: This review summarizes findings from a number of studies examining the link between alcohol consumption and sexual assault. There is no clear explanation for the association between alcohol and sexual assault, but the responsibility for sexual assault lies primarily with offenders. Current studies show there are differences in alcohol-related sexual assault experiences between student and non-student populations. There are various factors and characteristics involved in sexual assault and post-assault experiences; therefore there is a need for research on alcohol- and non-alcohol involved assault for comparison. This review also demonstrates a need for post-assault interventions targeted specifically for victims of alcohol-related sexual assault.

Lorenz, K., & Ullman, S. E. (2016). Alcohol and sexual assault victimization: Research findings and future directions. Aggression and violent behavior31, 82-94.

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