Though sexual assault is a widespread problem, college students around the country are experiencing this issue at higher rates than the general population. In fact, sexual violence is more prevalent on college campuses than any other crime. According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), college-aged women are twice as likely to be assaulted than robbed. While women are generally at a higher risk, both college women and college men are victims of sexual assault. Sexual assault frequently occurs on college and university campuses across the country, and alcohol can play a major role in this type of sexual assault. 

Why do alcohol-fueled sexual assaults frequently occur at college?

College has a reputation for being a place where young people can party as much and as often as they want. Movies and television perpetuate this stereotype, and there is some accuracy behind it. College is often where young people first get the opportunity to experiment with both sex and alcohol. The combination can sometimes lead to inappropriate and even dangerous situations for young men and women. Whether someone has gotten drunk and is taken advantage of, or a spiked drink has been intentionally used to create a helpless victim, alcohol is often used to facilitate sexual assault on campus. 

What is the relationship between sexual assault and alcohol?

At least half of all sexual assaults that happen to college students are associated with alcohol use. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), about 97,000 students, aged 18 to 24, report experiencing alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape

The prevalence of alcohol consumption on college campuses in general is very high. Unfortunately, when alcohol is involved, victims can be wrongfully blamed for being “too drunk.” But the reality is that rape and sexual assault are nobody’s fault except the perpetrator. That’s because the perpetrator consciously performs acts against a person without that person’s consent. 

What is consent?

Consent is clear verbal or non-verbal permission for specific sexual activities. Consent must be voluntarily and freely given by all parties prior to and during all sexual interaction, without coercive pressure or under threat. 

Consent must be continual. Consent to one form of sexual activity does not automatically grant consent to other forms of sexual activity. In addition, either party can withdraw consent at any time. 

It’s important to know that every person has the right to give consent and the obligation to get consent, before engaging in any kind of sexual activity. The clearest way to give and receive consent is through verbal communication. If  there is no clarity about another person’s decision to consent, permission must be asked. 

Consent must also be clearly understood by all parties. This means that consent must be given by a person who is capable of giving consent. If a person is asleep, under the influence of drugs or alcohol, is a minor or has diminished mental capabilities, he or she is not capable of giving consent. 

Keep in mind that alcohol-related sexual assault is a crime, just like non-alcohol-related sexual assault. Alcohol’s role in the assault does not change the fact that unwanted sexual acts are very serious criminal offenses. The only difference between non-alcohol-related sexual assault and alcohol-related sexual assault is the alcohol itself. In no situation is sexual assault acceptable. 

What is “date rape” and how is it related to sexual assault on college campuses? 

“Date rape” is a form of acquaintance rape and dating violence. It refers to a situation in which an individual is forced to have sexual intercourse with an acquaintance during a voluntary social engagement (i.e., a date). It is not a new phenomenon. In fact, more than half of all rapes are committed by male relatives, current or former husbands, boyfriends, or lovers. 

Date rape may involve a predator spiking a victim’s drink with a “date rape drug.” It may also involve the use of alcohol to diminish the victim’s ability to think or act coherently. 

Other “date rape drugs” are also present on college campuses. These are drugs which can be slipped into a drink without the victim knowing. Some common drugs like cannabis, cocaine, and prescription drugs like antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs can be used as date rape drugs. 

The most common types of date rape drugs are tranquilizers and sleep aids. These may include: 

  • Ketamine
  • Flunitrazepam (Rohypnol) 
  • Gamma-butyrolactone (GBL)
  • Gamma-hydroxybutyric acid (GHB) 

Almost 11 million people across the country have been raped while drunk, high, or drugged. 

What is “rape culture” and how is it related to sexual assault on college campuses? 

“Rape culture” is defined as an environment in which rape is common and in which sexual violence (particularly against women) is normalized and excused in the media and popular culture. Rape culture is often perpetuated through the use of misogynistic language, the objectification of women’s bodies, and the glamorization of sexual violence, thereby creating a society that disregards a person’s rights and safety. 

Many colleges highlight the affluence and power of the male through idolizing male athletes and fraternity life. This may create a power imbalance, with female athletes, sororities, or minority groups not being given the same value and credit. This inspires a dynamic that favors to male power over others, which in turn can lead to an overall culture that encourages sexual assault. 

Some researchers dispute this concept. However there is something to be said for the Campus Safety statistics about fraternity members and male athletes.  You  can read these statistics in more detail below. The fact that these men are statistically more likely than other men on campus to commit sexual assault or hold dangerous attitudes towards others is highly disturbing. The fact that these groups also have higher levels of alcohol use than others on campus is another concerning factor to consider. 

How can I protect myself against campus sexual assault? 

While there are certain precautions you can take to help protect yourself from sexual assault on campus, victim-blaming in any form is wrong. No incidence of rape or sexual assault is ever the fault of the victim. Rapists and sexual predators should be held solely accountable for their crimes against others. 

Precautions you can take to protect yourself against campus sexual assault include staying in group settings, never leaving your drink unattended, and learning self-defense. Some additional risk reduction strategies are:

  • Know where you are going when you go out at night, and speak up if you are uncomfortable or unsure about the plan. 
  • Recognize that drinking and drug use impair your judgment. You may not be capable of making the same decisions you would make if you were sober. 
  • If you drink, drink responsibly: eat a full meal beforehand, have a glass of water between each alcoholic beverage, stick to one type of alcohol, know your limits and don’t go beyond them.  You should also choose a designated driver to get you home safely, and don’t let anyone else decide how much you are going to drink. 
  • Only drink beverages that you have poured yourself or that come in a pre-sealed container. 
  • Don’t go anywhere with someone that you do not know well. 
  • Attend parties and gatherings with friends that you trust. Look out for one another. Leave with the group; do not leave alone. Do not leave with people that you don’t know. 
  • Get comfortable with your sexual intentions and limits. Know that you have the right to say “no” to any unwanted sexual contact. If you are unsure of what you want at any time, ask your partner to respect your feelings. 
  • If you feel you are being pressured or coerced into sexual activity, don’t hesitate to firmly state your feelings and leave the situation. 

The truth is, rape and sexual assault can happen to anyone. Just remember that no matter how much you have to drink, rape and sexual assault are never warranted. Do not let anyone tell you otherwise. 

How can I support survivors of sexual assaults?

There are many ways to support survivors of sexual assault. You can volunteer for groups that support individuals who have experienced sexual assault on campus. These include: 

  • End Rape on Campus, a national advocacy group that provides direct support to survivors of on-campus rape and sexual assault
  • Individual on-campus support groups
  • Feminists for Life, which has a specific college sexual assault support program 

Along with groups like these, there are also treatment programs for alcohol abuse that can provide education and skills training.  Students can learn how to safely drink on campus, how to manage peer pressure and other triggers that may lead to consuming too much alcohol. Here is a link to additional information about dealing with the prevalence of alcohol on campus and the ways in which alcohol contributes to sexual assault

Statistics about sexual assault, alcohol, and college

The magazine Campus Safety presents the following facts and statistics: 

  • About 20-25% of women will be sexually assaulted in college. 
  • Men are also victims of sex crimes – nearly 90% of these are juvenile (under 17).
  • About 99% of sexual assault perpetrators are male. 
  • For more than 12% of completed rapes, the victim is on a date with the perpetrators; this is also true for 35% of attempted rapes. 
  • Students in sorority houses and on-campus living are more likely to be victims of sexual assault than those living off campus. 
  • Students in fraternities are more likely to perpetrate sexual assault than non-fraternity-affiliated students. 
  • Male college athletes in aggressive sports were shown to be more likely to use sexual coercion and to demonstrate sexism, acceptance of violence, and hostility towards women. 

According to RAINN, 13% of all students are raped or experience some form of sexual assault through physical force, violence, or incapacitation in college. 23% of transgender, genderqueer, and sexually nonconforming college students have been sexually assaulted.  Among undergraduate students, about 26% of females and 7% of males experience rape or sexual assault. Among graduate and professional students, that number drops to 10% of women and 2.5% of men. 

Intimate partner violence is also common. Over two-thirds of victims know their perpetrator. 

Along with these statistics, the following facts demonstrate the prevalence of alcohol in these types of sexual assaults:

  • At least 50% of student sexual assaults involve alcohol. 
  • Approximately 90% of rapes perpetrated by an acquaintance of the victim involve alcohol.
  • About 43% of sexual assault events involve alcohol use by the victim; 69% involve alcohol use by the perpetrator. 
  • In one-third of sexual assaults, the aggressor is intoxicated. 

Students also tend to be at a higher risk for sexual assault at certain times of year. For example, more than half of college sexual assaults happen in the first few months of the academic year: August, September, October, or November. This is one reason why many campuses provide awareness and prevention education to incoming students during their first month or two on campus.

It’s critical to assert that all of the numbers above are likely much higher, since very few rape or sexual assault cases are reported. Only around 20% of female student victims, ages 18 to 24, report their cases to law enforcement. This stems from an  underlying societal issue: people often do not believe victims of rape or sexual assault. Victims may also fear social penalization. 

Reporting campus sexual assault 

Reporting sexual assault on a college campus may seem scary, especially at a college known to have a persistent “rape culture.” But it is vitally important to report sexual assaults on college campuses to prevent further sexual victimization and violence against women.

After a sexual assault occurs, students must be made aware of the recommended process to follow:

  • Call for emergency help if you’re in danger. If you need immediate emergency attention, call 911. 
  • Go somewhere safe. When you get there, do not change your clothes, bathe, brush your teeth, eat, or drink. While you may understandably want to do these things, you do not want to accidentally destroy evidence. 
  • Confide in someone you trust. Having someone with you as you report a sexual assault can help you feel supported. They can also help you navigate the reporting process, which can feel invasive and even triggering. 
  • Report the sexual assault. Make sure that you report the case to both campus security and the police. 
  • Seek medical attention. Make sure that you tell the doctor that you are receiving medical attention for a crime. You can choose to have a sexual assault forensic exam.
  • Know your rights. You do not have to do anything you don’t want to do. If you feel uncomfortable, you can pause or stop at any time. Also, note that there is no limitation on when you can report a crime to the police. It’s never too late, even when you think the information you’re reporting is irrelevant or unimportant. It’s always important, and it’s never too late. 
  • You can also join a support group. Support groups are widely available for victims of rape and sexual assault. 

Your first resource on campus should be your school’s Title IX Coordinator.  

What is Title IX and how is it related to sexual assault on college campuses? 

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits sexual discrimination, harassment, and violence in educational institutions that receive federal funding (which is the vast majority of public schools). Under Title IX mandates, schools are legally required to respond to and remedy hostile or unsafe educational environments. Failure to do so is a violation that can result in the school losing its federal funding. 

Title IX laws require colleges and universities to provide a way for students to report sexual assault or other intimate partner violence incidents. Campuses are also required to provide training on where and how to report. 

Another requirement of Title IX is that every educational institution receiving federal funding has a Title IX Coordinator. The Title IX Coordinator’s role is to ensure the safety of all students on campus. The contact information for your school’s Title IX Coordinator should be available in your school’s nondiscrimination notice and in an annual security report. Both victims and third parties should contact the Coordinator to report incidents of sexual assault or violence. 

Many colleges and universities offers online courses for those who want to learn more about sexual assault and prevention. These courses satisfy Title IX requirements for the school while also providing essential educational content to the student body. 

Course Highlight: Consent & Respect

3rd Millennium Classrooms offers an outstanding sexual assault awareness and prevention course that has enabled over a million college students to learn how to help and respect one another, as well as how to connect with campus resources. This course also fulfills Title IX and Campus Sexual Violence Elimination (SAVE) Act requirements. 

In Consent & Respect, students explore the crucial concepts of consent, healthy relationships, bystander empowerment, sexual assault, intimate partner violence, and stalking. They also learn about their rights as students, an important piece of the process that can encourage students to report sexual crimes. Students walk away from the course with concrete skills that they have practiced in role playing exercises. These skills will help them to build healthy relationships and be actively vigilant against sexual assault. 

Consent & Respect has a number of other stand-out features that make the course extremely easy to personalize for your campus. 

  • Each campus can include policies, reporting procedures and resources that are specific to their community, including contact information for the Title IX Coordinator
  • You can design custom campus definitions for sexual assault, domestic violence, stalking, and consent
  • The course includes a marketing toolkit for campus-wide promotion campaigns

In addition to the student version of Consent & Respect, there is a staff version available too. It covers similar topics geared toward administrators and other staff members, so that they too are trained in trauma-informed care.

If you’re interested in reviewing both the student and staff versions of Consent & Respect, consider signing up to use our Consent & Respect Suite. This gives you unlimited access to these courses and to our Campus Climate Survey course.

Learn more about Consent & Respect today