Drinking in a bar puts women at risk for male aggression

November 05, 2000

Fifty-seven percent of the women who participated in a recent study at the University at Buffalo's Research Institute on Addictions (RIA) reported experiencing at least one incident of verbal or physical aggression while drinking in a bar.

In order to be eligible for the study, the women reported drinking in bars one or more times per week during the preceding three months and were not abstaining from alcohol.

Most of the aggression the women experienced was verbal, according to Principal Investigator Kathleen A. Parks, Ph.D., but incidents of physical aggression included being threatened with an object, touched sexually, pushed, slapped or threatened with a weapon.

"As a preventive measure, women should be informed of the relationship between going to bars and the risk for aggression," according to Parks. "They also should be aware of their own risky behaviors that can attract or escalate aggression from others in a bar, such as greater alcohol consumption and intoxication, drug use, and increased or decreased reactivity when responding to others."

"When aggression occurred," Parks explained, "the women reported having consumed more alcohol in a shorter period of time and feeling more intoxicated. The women also reported that alcohol changed their own behaviors (such as becoming more aggressive, careless, or not in control) during half of the incidents."

Their aggressors were described as men who persisted in buying them drinks, talking to them and asking them to engage in sexual relations with little or no encouragement.

"Consistent with findings from previous studies," Parks said, "alcohol consumption appears to increase the likelihood of sexual assault by enhancing a man's misperception of a woman's friendly behavior as sexual intent, reinforcing stereotypes of the drinking woman as more sexually available, and decreasing a woman's ability to correct these misperceptions."

It appears that the bar environment, other patrons in the bar and the woman's behavior interact in a complex manner to determine whether aggression occurs on any given night.

Future studies at RIA will incorporate systematic assessments of bars in which aggression occurs, as well as interviews with bar staff to get a richer description of the environmental characteristics of the bar that influence aggression (such as criminal activities, drug use and drug sales, patron characteristics and frequency of aggression).

Funding for Parks' research came from the Alcoholic Beverage Medical Research Foundation ($85,300) and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism ($504,540).

University at Buffalo

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