What is the link between alcohol use and sexual assault on college campuses?

What is the link between alcohol use and sexual assault on college campuses?

The lawsuit brought against UMBC earlier this semester includes a disturbing scene in which three alleged rapists “encouraged [the plaintiff] and her friend to drink from a bottle of vodka and wine” that may have contained drugs, according to the lawsuit. The men themselves allegedly pretended to drink from the same bottles and later poured the alcohol over their balcony “in an attempt to conceal their surreptitious drugging of [the plaintiff] and her friend.”

Though this scene is deeply upsetting, it is far from unusual; according to alcohol.org, no less than 50 percent of all sexual assaults against college students involve alcohol. In some ways, this is unsurprising. Getting a college education is considered by many to be synonymous with partying and drinking. The Washington Post reports that almost 40 percent of college students feel they “sometimes or often drink more alcohol than they should” at parties or when hanging out with friends.

But at far too many of these parties, women find themselves keeping a close eye on their drinks in fear that it will be spiked with drugs. Other times, copious amounts of alcohol itself is used to incapacitate victims. In fact, according to the Washington Post, “two-thirds of survivors said they had been drinking just prior to their assaults.” In comparison, alcohol.org states that a third of perpetrators were inebriated when they committed assault.

Do these statistics extend to UMBC? It is hard to say; UMBC police’s annual Clery Report includes statistics about both alcohol-related and rape-related incidents, but not about any correlation between the two. Similarly, the police’s daily crime log lists individual instances of rape and sexual assault on campus but gives no details on these cases.

However, the amended lawsuit filed against UMBC indicates that there may indeed be a correlation between sexual assault and rape on campus, considering four out of the five plaintiffs were inebriated at the time of their assaults (though it is worth noting that two of these assaults did not occur on the UMBC campus).

Drawing attention to the relationship between alcohol and sexual violence can be difficult, as it at times leads to survivors being blamed for their assault. Students who are too drunk to say “no” to an aggressor may be told the encounter was not truly an assault because they did not fight back. Students who blacked out during rape might be doubted because they can not remember the incident, despite the fact that Maryland state law states that engaging in sexual contact with anyone who is “mentally incapacitated” qualifies as second-degree rape.

Although a correlation is present, ending sexual violence on college campuses cannot be boiled down to watching your drink and knowing your limits. People should not have to worry about protecting themselves from attack; rather, the campus community should be focused on educating students, providing resources to survivors, addressing harassment and properly disciplining aggressors. Only then can we hope to see a decline of sexual violence on the UMBC campus.