Why Your Sexual Assault Prevention Program Needs to Address Substance Abuse
It is crucial that a prevention program covers both sexual misconduct and substance abuse, especially alcohol abuse. Consider these statistics:
- Half of all sexual assaults are committed by men who have been drinking.
- Half of all sexual assault victims report that they had been drinking when they were assaulted.
- Each year over 97,000 students between 18 and 24 suffer alcohol-related sexual assault or rape.
In other words, alcohol is the number one rape drug.
Indeed, researchers and educators have long called for sexual assault prevention programs to incorporate training on substance abuse as well. This includes recommendations from
- the National Institute of Justice’s “Campus Sexual Assault Study,”
- the Department of Education’s April 2011 Dear Colleague Letter on Title IX and sexual misconduct, and
- the CDC’s recent guidelines on “Evidence-Based Strategies for the Primary Prevention of Sexual Violence Perpetration.”
There are many theories explaining the connection between alcohol and sexual assault including pharmacological and cultural reasons. (Antonia Abbey offers an excellent summary of these theories here. )
For instance, alcohol can incapacitate victims, making it harder for them to resist an attacker. Or it can make attackers more aggressive and impulsive. Perpetrators may also use to justify their crimes to themselves and those around them. An assailant might drink in order to surrender responsibility for his or her actions – “I can’t help it, I’m drunk.” Similarly, stereotypes about the relationship between drinking and sexual desire (e.g. women who drink are looking for sex) could encourage an assailant to aggressively pursue a woman despite her refusals. Victims may even internalize cultural stereotypes about alcohol and sexual behavior and as a result blame themselves for an assault.
Therefore, it’s crucial that a prevention program address these misconceptions and problematic associations, explaining that being drunk never excuses an individual from moral or legal responsibility for an assault nor does it place responsibility for an assault on the victim.
More broadly, a program that encourages (and teaches) students who drink to do so responsibly and to look out for their friends helps to instill positive habits and attitudes that will also help students stand up to sexual assault. It’s all part of the same prevention message.
For more on what to look for in a prevention program, refer to these posts: