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RIA awarded NIH grant to help combat college sexual assault

By CATHY WILDE

Published April 7, 2017

“Our research seeks to expand upon one existing approach to reduce college drinking as a way of preventing sexual victimization.”
Maria Testa, senior research scientist
Research Institute on Addictions

A two-year, $700,000 grant will help researchers at UB’s Research Institute on Addictions develop effective strategies to help prevent sexual assault on college campuses.

“Despite the consistently high prevalence of college rape and sexual victimization, few effective college rape-prevention programs have been developed,” says Maria Testa, RIA senior research scientist and grant recipient. “Our research seeks to expand upon one existing approach to reduce college drinking as a way of preventing sexual victimization.”

Alcohol is a factor in at least half of college sexual assault cases, according to recent research. Heavy episodic drinking is a strong risk factor for college sexual victimization, particularly for incapacitated rape, so interventions that reduce heavy drinking may be one effective way in preventing these assaults.

Testa and co-investigator Jennifer Livington, RIA senior research scientist, will begin with focus groups of college women to determine their perception of risk.

“Unfortunately, many women think, ‘it won’t happen to me,’ and may fail to recognize their potential vulnerability,” Testa says.  She emphasizes that women are never to blame for sexual assault — that fault lies solely with the perpetrator — but women may be able to reduce their risk by recognizing and changing behaviors.

The study will employ a “personalized normative feedback” intervention to educate participants about the actual amount people drink and how their drinking compares to others.

“Although people tend to underestimate their risk, they tend to overestimate how much others drink, so they may drink more,” Testa says. “Personalized normative feedback helps correct that.”

The researchers also will study various methods of delivering the intervention to students to determine which is most effective.

The grant is funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, and the Director’s Office in the National Institutes of Health.