Nav: Home

Drinking 'settings' tied to college sexual assault

December 12, 2016

PISCATAWAY, NJ - Although alcohol is believed to play a role in college sexual assaults, a new study finds no evidence that male students' binge drinking per se boosts their odds of becoming a perpetrator.

On the other hand, researchers found, male students who frequently went to bars or college parties were more likely than others to have ever sexually assaulted a woman over the first 5 semesters of college. What's more, an individual student's likelihood of being a perpetrator increased during semesters in which he attended parties or bars more than his usual amount.

The findings, reported in the January 2017 issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, suggest that "drinking setting"--rather than drinking, per se--might be key.

"People drawn to these settings may be at higher risk," said lead researcher Maria Testa, Ph.D., of the Research Institute on Addictions at the University at Buffalo.

That is, a student who heads to a bar or party might be more interested in sex than one who is content staying in the dorm and watching television, she said.

However, she pointed out, the study did not ask men about the specifics of any sexual assault--so it's not clear whether assaults stemmed directly from a night out at a bar or party.

The findings are based on surveys of nearly 1,000 U.S. college men. They were first surveyed as freshmen and then again at the end of each of the next five semesters.

Overall, almost 18 percent admitted to sexually assaulting a woman at some point during the study period. That included forced intercourse, "attempted" intercourse, and "unwanted contact."

The students were also asked about binge drinking, defined as having five or more drinks in a row. At first, it looked like men who binge drank more often were more likely to have sexually assaulted a woman.

However, that link disappeared once the researchers accounted for certain personality factors that the survey measured--such as problems with self-control, antisocial behavior and "impersonal" attitudes toward sex.

But men who frequently went to bars or parties were more likely to be perpetrators, even when personality traits were taken into account.

According to Testa, the findings could have some practical implications. If college parties and bars around campus do provide the context for some sexual assaults, then making those settings "safer" could be helpful.

Testa pointed to "bystander intervention" programs as an example. Many U.S. colleges have already begun using the programs, which train people in how to recognize and intervene in situations where a potential perpetrator may be zeroing in on a potential victim.

Also, most of the students in the study were underage and, technically, should not have gotten into any bars. If laws were enforced, Testa said, that might help address one context related to sexual assault.
Testa, M., & Cleveland, M. J. (January 2017). Does alcohol contribute to college men's sexual assault perpetration? Between- and within-person effects over five semesters. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 78(1), 5-13. doi:10.15288/jsad.2017.78.5


Abbey, A. (January 2017). Moving beyond simple answers to complex questions: How does context affect alcohol's role in sexual assault perpetration? A commentary on Testa and Cleveland (2017). Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 78(1), 14-15. doi:10.15288/jsad.2017.78.14

George, W. H., & Davis, K. C. (January 2017). Does alcohol really contribute to college men's sexual assault perpetration? A commentary on Testa and Cleveland (2017). Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 78(1), 16-17. doi:10.15288/jsad.2017.78.16

Testa, M., & Cleveland, M. J. (January 2017). It depends on how you look at it: The role of alcohol in men's sexual aggression perpetration. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 78(1), 18-19. doi:10.15288/jsad.2017.78.18

To arrange an interview with Maria Testa, Ph.D., please contact Cathy Wilde at or (716) 887-3365.

The Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs is published by the Center of Alcohol Studies at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. It is the oldest substance-related journal published in the United States.

To learn about education and training opportunities for addiction counselors and others at the Rutgers Center of Alcohol Studies, please visit

Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs

Related Binge Drinking Articles:

How serious is binge drinking among college students with disabilities?
A new study finds that college students with disabilities binge drink more often than their non-disabled student peers.
Effective intervention for binge drinking in adolescents
An intervention program based on school class groups has a preventive effect on subsequent drinking behavior, especially binge drinking, in adolescents who had previously consumed alcohol.
Binge drinking may quickly lead to liver damage
Alcohol consumed during just seven weeks of intermittent binge drinking harms the liver in ways that more moderate daily drinking does not, according to researchers at UC San Francisco.
Teenage binge drinking can affect brain functions in future offspring
Repeated binge drinking during adolescence can affect brain functions in future generations, potentially putting offspring at risk for such conditions as depression, anxiety, and metabolic disorders.
Questionnaire predicts likelihood of unprotected sex, binge drinking
Researchers in the social sciences have been searching for a holy grail: an accurate way to predict who is likely to engage in problematic behavior, like using drugs.
Study pinpoints behavior type linked to binge drinking in young adults
While there are a number of studies on alcohol misuse, most of the research has been focused on the adult population.
Gene and tonic: Genetic link in binge-drinking teens
Scientists have identified the KALRN gene in a search to determine factors at play in underage alcohol abuse.
Researchers find brain circuit that controls binge drinking
Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have identified a circuit between two brain regions that controls alcohol binge drinking, offering a more complete picture on what drives a behavior that costs the United States more than $170 billion annually and how it can be treated.
Binge drinking dangerous for young adults
Having an occasional drink is fine, but 'binge' drinking is a known health hazard and now high blood pressure may need to be added to the list of possible consequences.
Binge drinking with chronic alcohol use more destructive than previously thought
A new study by MU School of Medicine researchers shows that chronic alcohol use, when combined with repeated binge drinking, causes more damage to the liver than previously thought.

Related Binge Drinking Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Do animals grieve? Do they have language or consciousness? For a long time, scientists resisted the urge to look for human qualities in animals. This hour, TED speakers explore how that is changing. Guests include biological anthropologist Barbara King, dolphin researcher Denise Herzing, primatologist Frans de Waal, and ecologist Carl Safina.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#532 A Class Conversation
This week we take a look at the sociology of class. What factors create and impact class? How do we try and study it? How does class play out differently in different countries like the US and the UK? How does it impact the political system? We talk with Daniel Laurison, Assistant Professor of Sociology at Swarthmore College and coauthor of the book "The Class Ceiling: Why it Pays to be Privileged", about class and its impacts on people and our systems.