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Colleges can’t discount role of drinking in sexual assault

shot glasses filled with alcohol lined up on a bar

RIA’s latest ‘Expert Summary’ addresses concerns about White House report

By Cathy Wilde

Release Date: May 22, 2014

Research consistently shows that heavy alcohol use is a factor in a majority of college sexual assault cases. Therefore, reduction of binge drinking on campuses must be recognized as a crucial goal in assault-prevention efforts.
Jennifer Livingston, senior research scientist
University at Buffalo Research Institute on Addictions

BUFFALO, N.Y. – Reducing binge drinking on campuses must be a priority in addressing issues of college sexual assault, according to a new Expert Summary from the University at Buffalo Research Institute on Addictions (RIA).

In April, the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault released its first report, “Not Alone,” on how colleges can combat sexual assault on campus.

“Although the task force’s report contained critically important information on how campuses can better deal with assault cases, we were concerned to see that alcohol use received barely a mention,” says Jennifer Livingston, PhD, senior research scientist at RIA and coauthor of the Expert Summary.

“Research consistently shows that heavy alcohol use is a factor in a majority of college sexual assault cases,” Livingston says. “Therefore, reduction of binge drinking on campuses must be recognized as a crucial goal in assault-prevention efforts.”

Kathleen Parks, PhD, and Maria Testa, PhD, senior research scientists at RIA, along with Livingston, have conducted groundbreaking research on the association between binge drinking and college sexual assault, and their findings are included in the Expert Summary.

In addition to their research findings about the role of heavy drinking by perpetrators, victims or both in sexual assault cases, the Expert Summary includes information on how cultural norms relating to alcohol and sex can both fuel conditions where assault thrives and create barriers to reporting assault.

“Sexual assault is always wrong; there is no doubt about that,” says Kathleen Miller, PhD, senior research scientist at RIA and coauthor. “Unfortunately, disagreements about the role of alcohol have sometimes been a stumbling block when discussing prevention efforts.

“Some advocates worry that acknowledging the role of binge drinking in assaults is tantamount to blaming the victim, but our common goal here is to prevent sexual assaults by better understanding the conditions under which they are likely to occur,” Miller says. “We need to work together to educate students and keep them safe.”

To download a copy of the Expert Summary, “RIA Reaching Others: Alcohol and Sexual Assault,” visit: http://www.buffalo.edu/content/dam/www/ria/PDFs/ES11-AlcoholandSexualAssault.pdf. For more information on the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault, visit www.NotAlone.gov.

RIA is a research center of the University at Buffalo (UB) and a national leader in the study of alcohol and substance abuse issues. RIA’s research programs, most of which have multiple-year funding, are supported by federal, state and private foundation grants. Located on UB’s Downtown Campus, RIA is a member of the dynamic Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus and helps promote UB’s strategic focus on research initiatives. To learn more, visit buffalo.edu/ria.  

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