Level of alcohol use and sexual victimization of women are not unrelated. Sexual victimization, which is an attempted or full on sexual assault can range from unwarranted sexual threats to some physical contact to full on rape, is frequently occurring to women on college campuses across the U.S. and it has become a national conversation. Nearly 20% of undergraduate women have reported that they have experienced an attempted or completed sexual victimization after starting college. Alarmingly, sexual revictimization, which is when sexual victimization recurs, is also prevalent on college campuses.
Among women in college who suffered rape, 23% reported being raped multiple times. Revictimization is linked with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression, along with interpersonal issues like problems with intimacy or lack of assertiveness. Although a number of studies have been done on how alcohol use and sexual victimization are linked along with revictimization on college campuses, up until this time research has mainly focused on how much alcohol was consumed by the women. It is still not known whether certain alcohol-related factors aside from how much alcohol was consumed, increased their risk for being victimized.
This research study looked at the specific consequences of drinking, including risky behaviors as a result of drinking, diminished control, and blackouts, as potential mechanisms which makes alcohol use and sexual victimization riskier in terms of revictimization. Diminished control, which is drinking more alcohol or drinking for a longer period of time than what was originally planned, is linked with heavier and more frequent drinking episodes in teens. This might contribute to being exposed to more situations in which people could be vulnerable to being sexually victimized.
In the same vein, risky behaviors as a result of drinking, like having sex with a stranger, may raise their exposure to danger and increase their risk for being victimized. In another study, drinking and expected participation in risky conduct at baseline were linked with being revictimized at follow-up. Blacking out, which is not being able to recall large periods of time while drinking alcohol, may also raise the risk of victimization. Apparently there are a number of ways that alcohol use and sexual victimization as well as revictimization can be linked.
Participants in the study were undergraduate women who happened to be participating in a much larger study that was monitoring alcohol use and posttraumatic stress on a daily basis. A total of 11,544 women were randomly selected to participate; 4,342 finished the screening process and 860 ended up meeting the study criteria. The women who met the criteria claimed drinking 4 or more drinks on just one occasion, and on at least two occasions in the past month (i.e., the criteria for binge drinking). They also had a) no history of being victimized or b) a history of being sexually victimized prior to the last 3 months. The goal of the study was to figure out what the relationship was between a number of patterns regarding alcohol use and sexual victimization.
About 25% of women who were victims of sexual assault were re-victimized within 30 days. Results of the study showed that blackout drinking was a predictor of the incapacitated sexual revictimization of women who had previously been victimized as teens. This was after quantity of alcohol that had been consumed was taken into account. Other consequences of drinking were not strong predictors of alcohol use and sexual victimization or of being revictimized. Teenage sexual victimization was seen as a strong predictor of being sexually revictimized in college.
Blackout drinking appears to pose a unique risk for being revictimized. More than half (51%) of undergraduate students reported blacking out at least once and women are more apt to black out than men are because even if they don’t drink as much, their blood alcohol levels rise more quickly. Blackout drinking seems to discourage women from reporting that they were sexually victimized due to being unable to completely recall what happened. There may also be other patterns related to alcohol use and sexual victimization that have yet to be uncovered.
Treatment for alcohol use and sexual victimization can be effectively treated in our intensive outpatient program.