Is campus rape primarily a serial or one-time problem? Evidence from a multicampus study.

Foubert JD, Clark-Taylor A, Wall AF. Violence Against Women. 2019, 1-16. DOI: 10.1177/1077801219833820

Warning: This post includes sensitive information on sexual assault in the athletic community.

Take Home Message: Nine in 10 alcohol-involved sexual assaults on college campuses are committed by serial perpetrators. Men in fraternities and athletics are more likely to commit this crime than other college-aged men.

Social activities that include alcohol are often seen as a right of passage for many college-aged students. Unfortunately, alcohol use, especially high-risk drinking behaviors, plays a major role in sexual violence. Furthermore, male student-athletes and fraternity members are more likely to commit sexual assault against women than their peers. To develop an efficient strategy to address alcohol-involved sexual assault on college campuses it is critical to understand how prevalent it is and who is involved on today’s campuses. Hence, the authors aimed to use data from the Core Alcohol and Other Drug Survey, which captured data from 49 community and 4-year colleges in a Midwestern state to address 5 questions:

  1. “What portion of college men commit alcohol-involved sexual assault?
  2. What portion of assault perpetrators commit one versus more than one incident of alcohol-involved sexual assault?
  3. What portion of the total number of alcohol-involved sexual assaults are committed by men who commit two or more sexual assaults?
  4. To what extent do men involved in fraternities commit alcohol-involved sexual assault? Does this differ from other men?
  5. To what extent do men involved in athletics (intercollegiate, intermural, and club) commit sexual assault? Does this differ from other men?”

Over 12,600 male college students completed the survey at least once out of five times over 10 years (2000 to 2010; fraternity membership=7%, athletes=16%). Overall,1 in 20 college men committed alcohol-involved sexual assault. Among those who assaulted someone, 57% reported multiple offenses. Overall, 87% of alcohol-related sexual assaults were committed by serial offenders, who committed an average of at least 5 assaults. Finally, the authors found that men in fraternities or athletics were more likely than their peers to commit an alcohol-involved sexual assault.

Overall, this study should remind sports medicine clinicians that there is a systemic problem on our college campuses and that we should be diligent in following-up on potential incidents that are discussed in the sports medicine clinic. One in four women will experience sexual violence in her lifetime. The authors noted that other studies have supported their findings that men in fraternities or athletics are more likely to commit alcohol-involved sexual assault. Fraternity members are over three times more likely to commit sexual assault than their peers and male athletes are 77% more likely than non-athletes. Hypermasculinity and rape myth acceptance are common in both groups of college-aged men. Furthermore, alcohol lowers inhibitions, lowers defenses, and alters the ability to give or withhold consent. The combination of alcohol and male-dominated social settings such as fraternity parties increases the chances that sexual violence will occur. We need to be more attentive to potential incidents of sexual assault because serial sexual assaulters account for nearly 9 out of every 10 alcohol-involved sexual assaults. Hence, in the unfortunate event that we treat a female who has been sexually assaulted, most likely her assailant has raped previously and will do so again. It is important to recognize that while this study should raise awareness about these issues there were some limitations. For example, the data is only from one state, which may limit how we apply these findings to other states, and was reliant on men self-reporting the assault behavior, which may mean the authors are underestimating the number of alcohol-involved sexual assaults. Furthermore, the study focused on violent behaviors of men towards women but does not address sexual violence on the same sex. It would be helpful to know if the findings of male student-athletes are also applicable to high school-aged students. For clinicians in sports medicine who work with female athletes, these findings are extremely concerning. Clinicians should work with administrators to educate both men and women on safety, prevention, and reporting of sexual assaults particularly since fully abstaining from alcohol is an unrealistic expectation of college-aged men and women. Furthermore, if a discussion about a possible sexual assault is heard in the sports medicine clinic it is critical to help the person report the event through the proper channels because we need to be more proactive in identifying and stopping the offender, who likely is a repeat offender.

Questions for Discussion: How will you use the information provided by this study to help develop a prevention tool to educate your female patients?

Written by: Catherine E. Lewis

Reviewed by: Jeffrey Driban

Related Posts:

It’s not Just Happening in Hollywood, Rape Myths are Accepted on College Campuses

Optional Reading and Resources: RAINN