A new study has found colleges and universities with higher rates of binge drinking also have more rapes. In addition, nearly three-quarters of rape victims reported being intoxicated at the time of the attack.
"Women need to be alerted to dangerous situations where there's a lot of drinking and men need to be alerted to the fact that having sexual relations with a woman who is intoxicated is rape," study co-author Henry Wechsler, director of College Alcohol Studies at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, told CBS Radio News.
Binge drinking is indisputably a major problem on most college campuses, as is rape. Previous research has indicated alcohol is associated with at least half of sexual assaults on female college students.
"Most colleges by now are aware of the problem of binge drinking, but some do more about it than others, and some are more serious in taking a stand about it than others are," said Wechsler.
The current study analyzed data compiled from 119 U.S. colleges and universities participating in three Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Study surveys over three years. In total, the surveys involved almost 24,000 women.
Binge drinking was defined as consuming five or more drinks in a row for men and four or more drinks in a row for women at least once in the past two weeks.
"That kind of drinking is quite prevalent," Wechsler said. "About 44 percent of college students can be classified as binge drinkers in our national study."
A school's binge drinking rate was the percentage of students classified as binge or heavy episodic drinkers. High heavy episodic binge drinking schools had more than 50 percent of students in this category; medium heavy had 36 percent to 50 percent of students in this category; and low had 0 to 35 percent classified as binge drinkers.
Almost one in 20 (4.7 percent) of women reported being raped, and 72 percent of the victims reported being intoxicated while being raped.
Women who attended schools with high and medium heavy episodic drinking rates had, respectively, 1.8-fold and 1.5-fold increased odds of being raped while intoxicated compared to women at schools with low rates.
Women at rural schools were 1.3 times as likely to be raped while intoxicated compared to those in non-rural schools. Students from the South and North Central regions of the country were, respectively, 1.3 and 1.4 times likelier to be raped while intoxicated compared to students from the West.
In addition, women who were under 21, lived in sorority houses, used illicit drugs and drank heavily in high school had a higher risk of being raped while intoxicated.
"I think it's very important to do the education about alcohol consumption, together with education about rape, since such a large proportion of rapes are connected to drinking," Wechsler said.
"Alcohol and drugs dis-inhibit people," said Paul Rinaldi, associate director of the Addiction Institute of New York City. "In a lot of these young women, their judgment is impaired. Their radar is clouded with alcohol. When they're clearheaded, they might say, 'This guy is not someone I want to be alone with.'"
That's not to say the victim is to blame, Rinaldi stressed.
Rape victim advocates were critical of the findings, which appeared in a recent issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol.
"Binge drinking is unhealthy. No one questions that, but putting the blame for rape on alcohol is an excuse. In reality, the decision of the attacker to commit rape is the only cause of that crime," said Jamie Zuieback, a spokeswoman for the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network in Washington, D.C.
"We've worked very hard to foster a simple, undisputable understanding that rapists alone are responsible for this decision to commit this heinous crime. I think that this kind of study can be very harmful to that message. This is a crime. It's criminal behavior, period."
The study authors deny they have done this. What's more, Wechsler and his colleagues are hoping the findings will be used to ramp up college prevention programs.
"Most efforts around drinking are tied to automobile fatalities, and people are generally aware of this connection," Wechsler said. "In the public, there's less of a realization of the relationship of heavy alcohol use to rape."