Alcohol Use and Abuse

Alcohol use/abuse increases the likelihood of violence. The relationship between alcohol and rape, however, is often oversimplified by the public and the media (e.g., "alcohol abuse causes rape"), but the relationship is actually more complex. One study assessed whether the amount of alcohol consumed increased the severity of the sexual assault and the aggression involved. The results showed that while increased alcohol use increased aggression, moderate alcohol use was associated with the most severe sexual assaults (Abbey et al., 2003).

Several experiments have assessed the effects of alcohol on expectancies and attitudes about sexual intent. In one experiment, participants who were assigned to drink alcohol while reading a fictional scenario were more likely to perceive the woman in the scenario as more sexually aroused and the man's coercive behavior as more appropriate, compared to participants who read the same scenario but did not drink alcohol while reading it (Abbey, Buck, Zawacki & Saenz, 2003). Also, it is important to note that the effects of alcohol abuse are not the same for all people equally. Some evidence suggests that for people who already have a propensity to sexually abuse, alcohol abuse can provide an impetus for it (English, 2004). In other words, alcohol may cause sexual assault by people already likely to commit such acts, even without alcohol. Another study revealed that alcohol consumption (by both the offender and the victim) is more strongly associated with sexual assaults between strangers than those occurring between acquaintances and family members (Ullman & Brecklin, 2000).

In addition to the individual risk factors identified above, research has shown that numerous relational, community, and societal factors also contribute to the commission of rape. Everyone who abuses alcohol or exhibits hostile masculinity does not commit rape. The CDC's multi-level framework suggests that these individual risk factors are driven by broader factors. Understanding these broader factors is important for identifying opportunities for intervention and prevention. Figure 3.1 displays this framework.

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