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Associations Between Sexual Assault Victimization and Risky Drinking Within College Women’s Personal Networks

Sexual assault is a notable public health concern on college campuses affecting one in ten college students in general. Sexual assault can result in a variety of adverse health consequences including injury, sexually transmitted infections, and mental health effects. Women who have been sexually assaulted are also more likely to participate in risky health behaviors including the use of alcohol and drugs. Alcohol is involved in three out of every four college sexual assault cases and survivors of sexual assault may increase alcohol use as a coping mechanism. This study examines the association between sexual assault victimization for individuals and members of their social network and collegiate drinking.  

The study’s sample consisted of 538 female college students from a large public university in the Southern United States. Participants completed a survey that assessed age, fraternity/sorority status, and sexual assault victimization. The Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT) was used to determine alcohol consumption and drinking behaviors. An egocentric network analysis was used to assess social relationships and social influences among participants. Data was analyzed using three multilevel models.  

Results of the data analysis showed that over 20% of participants experienced sexual assault since turning 18. Students that reported higher AUDIT scores and a history of sexual assault were more likely to be connected with peers who drank more frequently. Higher AUDIT scores, a history of sexual assault and having a larger number of peers in Greek-life was associated with connecting to peers that binge drink more often. Lastly, participants reported that peers who experienced sexual assault consumed more alcohol. However, when the participant and their peer had both experienced sexual assault the peer was more likely to consume less alcohol when drinking.  

Takeaway: Social connections may impact alcohol behaviors among college students who are survivors of sexual assault. 

Patterson, M.S., Prochnow, T., Russell, A.M., Barry, A.E., Fehr, S.K.. Associations Between Sexual Assault Victimization and Risky Drinking Within College Women’s Personal Networks [published online ahead of print, 2022 Jun 27]. Violence Against Women. 2022;10778012221077128. doi:10.1177/10778012221077128 

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