Does Alcohol Use Increase Risk of Sexual Assault in College Women?

Alcohol and drug use can reduce inhibition, increase impulsivity, and put people at risk for engaging in behaviors that they may not otherwise engage in. In support of this, research shows that college women who consume alcohol are more likely to be victims of incapacitated sexual assault (ISA) than college women who do not drink alcohol. Victims of ISA are more likely to be revictimized as well. Therefore, college campuses have made attempts to educate young women about the dangers of ISA by focusing on reducing alcohol consumption. But it is unclear whether or not these efforts have been successful.

Terri L. Messman-Moore of the Department of Psychology at Miami University wanted to find out if women with a history of ISA were at increased risk for revictimization based on emotional dysregulation and not just alcohol use. Messman-Moore focused on emotional dysregulation because trauma victims often experience significant fear, guilt, and shame from sexual trauma and may use maladaptive coping strategies such as risky behavior and alcohol use, which perpetuate their risk of victimization. For her study, Messman-Moore interviewed 229 college women and asked them to report their ISA history and alcohol consumption. She re-interviewed the women nine weeks later and found that an overwhelming majority of women who were victimized during the study period had a prior history of ISA. In fact, 73% of the women who experienced ISA had been victims of ISA before.

These women were more likely to use drugs and alcohol and had higher levels of emotional dysregulation, guilt, and fear than those with no history of ISA. However, the revictimized women did not have higher levels of alcohol use during the study period than the women with a history of ISA who were not revictimized. This suggests that emotional dysregulation, which increases dangerous, risky, and impulsive behavior, can place these victimized women at greater risk for revictimization, regardless of other factors. These results provide clinically significant evidence for future direction. Messman-Moore said, “Interventions designed to promote women’s safety and reduce revictimization risk should aim to enhance emotion regulation skills that may reduce risk among the most vulnerable women.”

Messman-Moore, T. L., Ward, R. M., and Zerubavel, N. (2012). The role of substance use and emotion dysregulation in predicting risk for incapacitated sexual revictimization in women: Results of a prospective investigation. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0031073

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  • Ervin

    January 25th, 2013 at 11:48 PM

    It is so important to be aware of and more careful after you have already been a victim before.I do not want to sound like advising the victim but really indulging in coping strategies that can be detrimental in themselves is not the way forward!


    January 26th, 2013 at 1:46 PM

    repeated assaults of this sort can leave a person devastated.that could then result in negative coping and even increase the risk of suicide or self harm.we need effective coping strategies spelt out so that anybody was has been abused not only comes out with it but is also able to cope with it in an appropriate would also protect them against such an assault in the future.

  • jessica c

    January 27th, 2013 at 5:27 AM

    If a guy sees that a girl has been drinking and she is vulnerable to an attack then I think that the chance is pretty good that he is going to take advantage of that weakness

  • Susan

    January 27th, 2013 at 11:00 AM

    When has alcohol ever helped someone? As a coping agent it provides a temporary fix with major drawbacks in the long run. As an intoxicant it hurts too. Judgement is clouded under its influence and you become prone to many many unwarranted situations. This report is not surprising at all.

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