Sexual assault against women in U.S. schools and colleges has been increasing since the 1980s. One constant is the role that alcohol plays in these assaults. Studies show most men in school and college in the 80s and in 2015 take advantage of women who are incapacitated by alcohol. More women in 2015 than in the 80s say they were incapacitated by alcohol when they were sexually assaulted.
Koss and colleagues explored the role alcohol plays in sexual assault in U.S. schools and colleges in their study published in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence. The study defines sexual assault consistently with the federal definition of rape. That definition goes beyond forcible rape. It includes oral, anal, or vaginal penetration when the victim is too intoxicated to consent.
The study compares cross-sectional analyses of two national samples. The first one from 1984-85 and the second one more recently from 2014-15.
Key results of the study:
- In 2015, one in three women (33.4%) reported being a victim of sexual assault.
- Comparatively this number was one in four women (27.9%) in 1985.
- In 2015, about three-quarters of the women reported they were incapacitated by alcohol when sexually assaulted.
- This is an increase from half the women reporting the same in 1985.
- The amount of men sexually assaulting women has increased drastically since 1985 from one in nineteen men to one in eight in 2015.
- One constant is the number of men admitting they sexually assaulted women when the victim was incapacitated by alcohol.
- This number has stayed at about nine in 10 men.
Programs to tackle alcohol and sexual assault in colleges largely ineffective
The link between alcohol and sexual assault is not new. Movendi International has consistently reported how alcohol fuels sexual assault and violence in general. Heavy alcohol use is one of the biggest predictors of sexual assault. This link was demonstrated practically in South Africa when alcohol sales were temporarily banned during the COVID-19 lockdown. In the first quarter of 2021/22 financial year, as soon as the lockdown and the temporary alcohol sales ban was lifted sexual assaults increased in the country by 13.9%.
The above research by Koss and colleagues shows that existing programs in colleges that aim to reduce alcohol use and its role in sexual assault are failing. Previous research including by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta has established that current approaches in colleges to alcohol prevention and associated sexual harm have been largely ineffective.
Neither heavy alcohol use nor associated sexual assaults have reduced in colleges. These findings have prompted researchers to call for more comprehensive measures to prevent sexual violence, including measures to tackle the harmful alcohol norms within the colleges.
Some practices that promote cheap alcohol and propagate harmful alcohol norms in colleges include “2-for-1” drink specials, beer in pitchers, “ladies nights” in which women pay less than men for alcohol or cover charges, and sponsored alcohol use games, such as beer pong or flip cup. Researchers have suggested tackling these issues to reduce the cheap alcohol in bars near colleges and reduce the perpetuation of harmful alcohol norms in these environments.
Big Alcohol continues to avoid its role in violence against women
The alcohol industry is responsible for the harm their products and practices cause, including fueling violence against women. However, alcohol companies continue to not only avoid this responsibility but recently try to position themselves as an “ally” for women’s rights.
For decades the alcohol industry has objectified women in their marketing to appeal to their largely male-dominated market. But recently Big Alcohol shifted to target women as a consumer market. Their latest strategy is to align with women’s empowerment, women’s rights, and feminism to try and promote alcohol to women in a bid to maximize profits
Movendi International is continuously exposing Big Alcohol tactics to appeal to women, including pinkwashing and marketing alcohol as a gender equalizer – efforts to exploit the women’s rights cause for private profits.
Women and girls are still exposed to violence, often driven by alcohol. This includes sexual assault as exposed in the above study and epidemic levels of domestic and intimate partner violence. But Big Alcohol is lobbying against policy solutions that would protect women and girls from alcohol violence. The alcohol industry is cherry-picking which part of the women’s rights cause they want to align with and which parts they want to undermine to suit their goal of profit maximization.