Sexual assault and alcohol consumption: What do we know about their relationship and what types of research are still needed?

Approximately half of all sexual assaults are associated with either the perpetrator's alcohol consumption, the victim's alcohol consumption, or both. Although the emphasis of this review is on alcohol-involved sexual assaults, their unique aspects can only be evaluated by comparing them to other types of sexual assault. Theoretical perspectives on sexual assault that focus on characteristics of the perpetrator, the victim, and the situation are described. A number of personality traits, attitudes, and past experiences have been systematically linked to sexual assault perpetration, including beliefs about alcohol and heavy drinking. In contrast, only a few experiences have been significantly related to sexual assault victimization, including childhood sexual abuse and heavy drinking. There is support for both psychological pharmacological mechanisms linking alcohol and sexual assault. Beliefs about alcohol's effects reinforce stereotypes about gender roles and can exacerbate their influence on perpetrators' actions. Alcohol's effects on cognitive and motor skills also contribute to sexual assault through their effects on perpetrators' and victims' ability to process and react to each other's verbal and nonverbal behavior. Limitations with existing research and methodological challenges associated with conducting research on this topic are described. Suggestions are made for future research which can inform prevention and treatment programs.
Author: 
Abbey,Antonia
Zawacki,Tina
Buck,Philip
Clinton,A.Monique
McAuslan,Pam
Reprint Status: 
IN FILE
Start Page: 
271
End Page: 
303
Journal/Periodical Name: 
Aggression and Violent Behavior
Volume: 
9
Abstract: 
This article provides a brief overview of the various issues previously studied in the area of sexual assault. Research shows that, in approximately half of all sexual assaults committed, the perpetrator had been drinking alcohol. Furthermore, approximately half of all sexual assault victims report having been drinking alcohol at the time the sexual assault occurred. This study highlights statistics specific to alcohol-involved sexual assaults and attempts to better understand the role alcohol plays in sexual assaults. In addition, the personality characteristics, attitudes, and experiences of both the perpetrator and victim are discussed. Analysis suggests that there are many different motivating factors across personality characteristics, attitudes, and experiences that are attributed to the perpetration of sexual assault. Furthermore, while victim personality traits are not associated with sexual assault victimization, victim experiences such as childhood sexual abuse, early and frequent sexual activity, and heavy alcohol consumption were found to be associated with sexual assault victimization. Most of the data on sexual assault perpetrators come from imprisoned rapist and college students; this only provides a limited knowledge of the full spectrum of perpetrator profiles. Other limitations include an inability to obtain accurate knowledge of perpetrators' level of intoxication at the time the sexual assault was committed.
Topic Areas: 
Alcohol, Perpetration, Vulnerability
Reference Type: 
JOUR
Reference ID: 
1552
Publication Date: 
2004