THE ALCOHOL-DATE ASSAULT CONNECTION

THE ALCOHOL-DATE ASSAULT CONNECTION

By Paul Casey


Introduction

This paper will explore the connection between alcohol and diminished judgment by college women leading to dangerous situations and possibly date rape.

The Problem

The connection between alcohol and date rape situations is running rampant across college campuses in the U.S. The role alcohol plays as inhibitions, defense mechanisms and proper judgement get distorted is enormous. Perpetrators depend on the effects of alcohol to have their way with their victims. The immense peer pressure that college students feel to be a part of something and to belong where the masses are consuming alcohol sets the stage for date rape situations that keep occurring in high numbers. “The role of alcohol both as a precipitating and explanatory factor for sexual aggression among males has been well articulated, as well as has its role in increasing female vulnerability and risk of victimization, partially due to the lower awareness of risky situations, impaired judgement and the ability to resist assault.” (Turner, 1999)

The alcohol that young women are consuming contracts brain tissue and depresses the central nervous system. “The alcohol reaches the brain and interferes with communication between nerve cells by interacting with the receptors on some cells. Alcohol also enhances the effects of the neuro-transmitter GABA.” (Benson, 2007)

Date Rape

Its called date rape because these girls are with these boys by choice not knowing that after they are intoxicated they will become a date rape victim. “Rape is the sexual penetration of a person against his or her will by use of force, by the threat of force, by verbal coercion, or by the inability to consent because of the impaired mental status or age of victim.” (Loiselle, 2007) One might think that the situation for a rape to happen is when a young woman is walking alone in a park at night, and is preyed upon by a complete stranger. Not the case at all. It happens in social settings when these girls underestimate the role of alcohol as a personal risk factor for sexual assault. In party situations the girls think they are with people they can trust.

With the alcohol-impaired judgment, girls lose the ability to detect risky sexual cues. Now if they were sober and could use verbal and physical resistance, these actions could stop the rape attempt. The young men are full of testosterone and when alcohol is thrown into the mix, the effect is like a run-away train. The desire for sex in males is so strong that they will say and do almost anything to get their female counterparts to have sex with him. “Few researchers have investigated the influence of alcohol consumption on a person’s ability to detect signals associated with sexual assault.” (Loiselle, 2007) Loiselle did present one study in which a tape was made of a dating interaction between male and female actors. The drama becomes gradually more coercive and eventually ends up in a rape. In the study, male volunteers were either sober or given alcohol. Participants were then asked to indicate the point in the tape where the male actor should refrain from making further sexual advances. The men who consumed alcohol allowed the tape to progress significantly longer than those who did not drink.

This brings us back to a real dating situation where a young woman thinks she is meeting a mild mannered young man she has met in school. The young man asks her to a party and she says yes because there appears to be no threat with him in this social situation. Alcohol comes into the mix, the young man turns into a sex bomb, the young woman’s defense mechanisms go down the toilet, and before she knows it she is being raped.

Now lets look at a study that examined the pharmacological and psychological effects of alcohol on woman’s recognition of response to dating sexual aggression. Pumphrey-Gordon, (2007) exposed two groups of women to a date rape situation via audiotape. One group was given two twelve-ounce beers while the other group was totally sober. It was found that the tape was allowed to go a lot further by the women who had alcohol in their system and that they displayed significantly less resistant attitudes. The women without alcohol displayed much more assertiveness in stopping advances before they heightened.

Pumphrey-Gordon’s study also showed that women who were sexual victims in their adolescent years are using alcohol in the present to deal with the trauma of the past. A woman who is sexually abused at a young age is very traumatized. There is a great loss of self esteem and self worth. The alcohol calms the great distress and gives relief but then makes them open targets for sexual predation, which then replays the trauma and core issue. This is not to say that these women are to blame for the abuse. These women need trauma therapy to face the core issue that is stealing their self-worth. With character role-play, these women can confront what happened to them and regain their self-esteem which can break the cycle of victimization.

“As the rates of sexual assault on college campuses continues to rise, the need for innovative approaches for prevention becomes more urgent.” (Crawford, 2008) College girls who were sexually abused as children have a problem judging risky situations or people. These girls are not reacting as quickly to threatening situations therefore they are falling victim to assault. “One explanation for a sexual assault victims delay in responding to a risky situation may be that such women believe that they lack the ability to prevent negative experiences to happen to them.” (Crawford, 2008) As children they had no control over their own bodies so that experience still plays a part in the present. Just as a child that is sexually assaulted by a parent or adult who is supposed to be safe, in the present these acquaintance rapes are happening again with someone the girls feel they can trust, and again that trust is betrayed.

It is important to prepare these young women to recognize the risk of acquaintance rape as well as to respond effectively to that risk. The withholding of alcohol would be a great asset to their safety. The first thing an informed girl could say at a party is “I don’t drink.” Judging the young man by his reaction could give great insight into his motives. There are many other outlets like sports, music, and creative arts that don’t bring alcohol into the situation and that offer a positive, fulfilling experience.

Our culture is also partly to blame for alcohol use. There is immense pressure to succeed and be “the best”. Add that to the peer pressure of being part of the crowd who is succeeding. Alcohol plays the role of seeming to offer relief from this pressure to succeed and belong. The big lie to the youth is that if they don’t drink they won’t be liked or part of the crowd. There are no classes at college that deal with what is really going on with people. Nonetheless the reality is that we are all accountable for our motives and actions toward one another. Young men and women can feel true intimacy and love for one another without the mask of alcohol. They can take their time and get to deeply know each other. They can practice safe sex without being intoxicated. There needs to be more support for young women who have been victimized and are walking around not completely in their bodies. They need to just stop and go through past regression therapies to reclaim their bodies and self-esteem. Young men need to learn how to respect the opposite sex and not just treat women as sex objects to be obtained. They need to learn appropriate outlets for their normal, healthy sex drives.

Summary

There are numerous factors that have been associated with sexual assault but the use of alcohol is the most prevalent. There are enormous pressures on young women and men to become responsible adults and over come the victimization and false assumptions taught to them by abusive or “well-meaning” adults. The use of alcohol enormously complicates this growth process and propels date rape scenarios. When sober we have fairly good judgment and working consciences; with alcohol judgment is impaired and victimization re-occurs.

This society is truly carrying the scars of the past into the present. Yes, we are all the victims but we are also all the healers.

REFERENCES

Benson, B., Gohm, C., Gross, A., (2007). College women and sexual assault: pharmacology of the brain. Journal of Family Violence, 22: 341-351.

Crawford, E., O’Dougherty, M., Birchmeier, Z., (2008). Drug-facilitated sexual assault: college women’s risk perception and behavioral choices. Journal of American College Health, 57, #3: 261-270.

Larimer, M.E., Lydum, A.R., Anderson, B.K., and Turner, A.P, (1999). Male and female recipients of unwanted sexual contact in a college student sample: prevalence rates, alcohol use, and depression symptoms. Sex roles, 40: 295.

Loiselle, M, Fuqua, W., (2007). Alcohol’s effects on women’s risk detection in a date rape vignette. Journal of American College Health, 55:#5: 261-266.

Pumphry-Gordon, J, Gross, A. (2007). Alcohol consumption and females recognition in response to date rape risk: the role of sex-related alcohol expectancies. Journal of Family Violence, 22: 475-45.