Lawyers Journal

Underage drinking and sexual assaults

The horrific consequences of underage drinking are not limited to the fatal ones featured in my Viewpoint column in the May issue of Lawyers Journal. Another life-altering consequence is an increased risk for sexual assault.

Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. addressed students and faculty at the University of New Hampshire on April 4, 2011. The subject matter of his speech was the prevalence of alcohol-fueled date rape. The same topic was reported in The New York Times on April 8 ("At Yale, Sharper Look at Treatment of Women"). In a letter to the editor of The New York Times published on April 12, 2011, Joseph Califano, a former secretary of Health, Education and Welfare and founder and chairman of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, attributed the mistreatment of women to excessive drinking by college students.

Secretary Califano offered the view that fundamental change in alcohol abuse is a preliminary step in protecting female students and eliminating the culture of misogyny. According to data assembled by his Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, alcohol abuse on college campuses results in 100,000 sexual assaults of women, 700,000 injuries, and 2,000 deaths every year. In its news investigation "Seeking Justice For Campus Rapes," National Public Radio described current conditions on college campuses as an "epidemic of sexual assault" where "one of [every] 5 women will be sexually assaulted during her college years."1

The majority of campus sexual assaults occur when women are incapacitated, primarily by alcohol.2 "[T]he vast majority of incapacitated sexual assault victims (89%) reported drinking alcohol, and being drunk (82%), prior to their victimization."3 Venue counts. "A surprisingly large number of respondents reported that they were at a party when the incident happened, with a significantly larger proportion of incapacitated sexual assault victims reporting this setting (58% compared to 28%). The majority of sexual assault victims of both types reported that the incident happened off campus (61% of incapacitated sexual assault victims and 63% of physically forced sexual assault victims)."4

In college years, fraternity houses and off-campus apartments are the sites of choice. Outside of college campuses, private homes are the preferred venues for underage drinking parties, offering up multiple rooms for binge drinking, drug use, and hooking up. The data are telling. Some 60 percent of female victims were first raped before age 18. And 20 to 25 percent of female college students experience completed or attempted rape.

Sadly, alcohol abuse and sexual misbehavior begins among underage drinkers long before college years.5 "This problem is not limited to college. During the 2007-2008 school year, there were 800 reported incidents of rape and attempted rape and 3,800 reported incidents of other sexual batteries at public high schools."6 One affluent community situated just west of Route 128 reported in its Youth at Risk Survey that 13 percent of its high school students had been "physically hurt by a date," 7 percent had been "forced to have sexual intercourse by a date," and 10 percent had been "forced to do other sexual things."

Alcohol consumption by the victim is a major risk factor for sexual assault. The 2007 federally funded Campus Sexual Assault (CSA) Study reported that "early age of onset of drinking and frequency of alcohol consumption" is directly tied to "greater risk of incapacitated sexual assault and penetration." In plain language, the earlier girls start drinking and the more frequently they do so, the more likely it is that they will be victims of sexual assault.

Part of the problem reposes in parents who provide venues for underage drinking parties and dismiss law enforcement as misguided. But part of the problem rests as well with society as a whole. We have to connect the dots between date rape, underage drinking, and use of private homes as the venue of choice. Our kids are at stake.

MBA President-elect Richard P. Campbell is founder and chairman of Campbell, Campbell, Edwards & Conroy PC.

1 www.npr.org/series/124073905/seeking-justice-for-campus-rapes. NPR likely based its report on Krebs, C.P., The Campus Sexual Assault Study: Final Report (Oct. 2007), referenced in the U.S. Department of Education, Office For Civil Rights, April 4, 2011, regulatory guidance on how colleges and universities must respond to campus sexual assaults (at note 3).

2The U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights, April 4, 2011, regulatory guidance on how colleges and universities must respond to campus sexual assaults (at note 3).

3Krebs, C.P., Campus Sexual Assault Study: Final Report (Oct, 2007) at xvi.

4Id., at xvi-xvii.

5In just a single week in April 2011, Plainville police arrested 52 underage drinkers (many of whom were minors) at a dress up theme party entitled "Business Hoes and CEO's" and Cohasset police arrested 10 minors who had broken into an empty home and used it as a party house.

6The U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights, April 4, 2011, regulatory guidance on how colleges and universities must respond to campus sexual assaults (at note 6). S. Roberts, et al, Indicators Of School Crime And Safety: 2010 (U.S. DepÅft of Educ. & U.S. DepÅft of Justice, November 2010, available at http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2011/2011002.pdf.

©2014 Massachusetts Bar Association