On Wednesday afternoon, Antonia Abbey, professor of psychology at Wayne State University, gave a lecture on the relationship between sexual aggression and alcohol at the University.
While Abbey’s study focused on a broader age group, she said there have been many studies involving college students, as college is a time when sexual aggression is very common. Abbey attributed this prevalence to the social environment that encourages heavy drinking and casual sex.
“You can imagine when you’re in an environment where your peers are talking about how many sexual conquests they’ve had,” Abbey said. “There is going to be a lot more pressure to have sex.”
During her talk, Abbey cited a number of studies that found roughly 1 in 5 men have committed an act of sexual aggression towards women. Studies show that about half of these instances involved alcohol consumption, either by the man or the woman. Abbey said most women who faced sexual aggression knew the perpetrators, and were in a dating or sexual relationship.
While it is clear from past studies that alcohol is implicated in many instances of aggression, Abbey said it is difficult to prove whether or not alcohol is a driving force behind the action.
“You do find a lot of links between heavy drinking or drinking problems and sexual aggression,” Abbey said. “But most of those studies have that missing link in the logic.”
Unlike past studies, Abbey’s study focused on the perpetrators rather than the victims of sexual aggression. With a survey of only males ages 18-34, she found 43 percent of responders had engaged in sexual aggression. In 47 percent of these cases, the perpetrator had consumed alcohol prior to the aggression.
The study found men who were hostilely masculine, had misperceptions of women, engaged in delinquent adolescent activity or enjoyed impersonal sex were more likely to commit sexual assault. The likelihood of these men to be sexually aggressive grew greater when these factors were combined with alcohol. Abbey said these correlations could be beneficial in reducing the prevalence of male sexual aggression.
“We may or may not think we can change someone’s views about women now, but we can reduce their drinking,” Abbey said. “We can’t go back and change someone’s childhood experiences, but maybe we can change their attitudes about women … if they ultimately lead to sexual aggression, if we change some of those pieces we may be reducing rates of sexual aggression.”
The University offers many resources for counseling and reporting for survivors of Sexual Assault. A listing of available services can be found here. In addition, the University’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center staffs a 24/7 crisis line at (734) 936-3333.