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UB study finds alcohol 'settings,' not binge drinking, raises sexual assault odds

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The use of alcohol is often believed to be linked to college sexual assaults, but a study issued by the University at Buffalo Research Institute on Addictions reveals new findings.

While the study indicates that while college men who drink while attending parties and bars are more likely to be involved in a campus sex assault, it found no evidence that binge drinking (having five or more drinks in a row) itself boosted their odds of committing the offense.

Maria Testa, lead researcher of the study, is with the UB's Research Institute on Addictions. Testa tells WBFO News it’s the “drinking setting” to watch out for over the drinking itself, and that people drawn to these settings may be at a higher risk.

“There are a few studies that have also found something similar. I mean, it’s important to look at the role of alcohol because there are a lot of sexual assaults that involve alcohol, but what this is suggesting is that a lot of it is the personality factors,” Testa said.

The study followed 1,000 college freshman over five semesters. Students participated in a 'self-report' survey with specific questions. Almost 18 percent admitted to sexually assaulting a woman at some point during the study. That included forced intercourse, “attempted” intercourse, and “unwanted contact.”

One of the questions asked of the college men was “How many times have you attempted sexual intercourse with a woman when she didn’t want to by giving her alcohol or drugs to make her intoxicated?”

“We had 16 of those questions, and if they answered positively to any of them in a semester, that was accounted as indicating some type of sexual aggression,” Testa said.

The study also found that male students who frequented bars or parties were more likely to have sexually assaulted a woman in their first five semesters.

Testa said “bystander intervention” programs, in which colleges train people how to recognize and intervene in situations where sexual assault may happen, has helped prevent the crime.

“There’s evidence that it does help somewhat if colleges institute this,” Testa said.

Testa also pointed out that many of the students were underage and illegally served alcohol at bars during the study. She says proper enforcement of the laws might help address one context related to sexual assaults.

The findings will appear in next month's issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.