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How Does Binge Drinking Affect Sexual Assault Risk?

Posted in Binge Drinking

How Does Binge Drinking Affect Sexual Assault Risk?Binge drinking, sometimes known as heavy episodic drinking, is the practice of consuming enough alcohol to reach a legally drunken state in roughly two hours or less. Significant numbers of people in the U.S., including underage drinkers and young adults, engage in this practice in any given month. In a study published in October 2014 in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, a team of Danish researchers explored the role that binge drinking participation plays in increasing the odds that a girl or woman will become a victim of a sexual assault.

About Binge Drinking

As a rule, binge drinkers knowingly consume large amounts of alcohol in a short span of time, although not all participants may fully understand the intoxication-related implications of their rapid alcohol intake. Boys and men must usually imbibe at least five standard servings of alcohol (each containing 0.6 oz of pure alcohol) before getting legally drunk in a two-hour window. Girls and women must usually imbibe at least four standard alcohol servings. Since many people knowingly or unknowingly consume drinks that contain more than a standard alcohol serving, the real-world, drink-by-drink threshold for binge drinking may be substantially lower.

In the U.S., binge drinking is relatively common in two partially overlapping population groups: underage drinkers and young adults between the ages of 18 and 34. Fully nine out of every ten drinks consumed by an underage drinker are consumed in an episode of alcohol binging, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report. However, despite this fact, more than half of all binge drinking occurs among adults past the age of 25. In addition to sexual assault, serious consequences associated with alcohol binging include alcohol poisoning, drunk driving and driving-related crashes, higher risks for homicide, higher risks for suicide and higher risks for intimate partner violence (i.e., domestic violence).

Drinking and Sexual Assault

The term sexual assault applies to all forms of non-consensual sexual contact, including such things as rape, attempted rape and non-penetrative sexual touching. For a number of reasons, alcohol consumers have higher chances of committing a sexual assault. Examples of these reasons include the actual effects of alcohol on the human capacity to control behavior, the attitudes that drinkers commonly hold toward the effects of alcohol on their capacity to control their behavior, socially accepted attitudes toward the sexual roles of women, the often heavy consumption of alcohol at parties and other gatherings where men and women comingle, and the social acceptability of drinking as a plausible explanation for impulsive or reckless conduct that would otherwise fall well outside the norm of permissible behavior.

Impact of Alcohol Binging

In the study published in BJOG, researchers from Denmark’s Copenhagen University Hospital used information gathered from that institution’s Centre for Victims of Sexual Assault to gauge the impact that binge drinking has on increasing a woman’s or girl’s chances of experiencing a sexual assault. This information, gathered between 2001 and 2010, included data submitted by 2,541 female sexual assault victims. In addition to alcohol consumption, the researchers looked at all other factors that increase the odds of sexual assault exposure.

After reviewing their findings, the researchers concluded that 60 percent of the girls and women under consideration consumed at least some amount of alcohol shortly before exposure to a sexual assault. They also concluded that 40-plus percent of the assault victims had consumed at least six servings of alcohol, an amount that significantly surpasses the minimum threshold for binge drinking. Finally, the researchers concluded that the binge-drinking women enrolled in the study were substantially more likely than other sexual assault victims to experience an attack perpetrated by a complete stranger or by someone they only knew for a day or less.

The study’s authors identified level of alcohol intake and age as two of the primary factors in increasing or decreasing a girl’s or woman’s odds of experiencing a sexual assault. Fully two-thirds of the study participants (66 percent) were between the ages of 15 and 24 when their assault exposure occurred. The authors also note that one-third of the participants had been sexually assaulted more than once. Overall, the authors believe their work contributes meaningfully to the understanding of the circumstances that contribute to the risks for sexual assault victimization among both girls and women.