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Updated on February 4, 2023
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Alcohol-Related Sexual Assault in College

Overview: Sexual Assault on College Campuses

Sexual assault is pervasive across college campuses around the country. In fact, sexual violence is more prevalent on college campuses than any other crime.

College-aged women (18 to 24 years old) are twice as likely to be assaulted than robbed.4 They are also at a heightened risk of sexual violence due to the influence of many systemic issues. These include the following:

  • The hypersexualization and objectification of women
  • Victim-blaming and slut-shaming culture
  • Toxic masculinity
  • A lack of adequate sexual education
  • A lack of legal protection
  • A lack of bodily autonomy
  • Unequal political representation

While women are at a higher risk, both college men and women can be victims of sexual assault.

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Statistics of Alcohol-Related Sexual Assault in College

Here are some statistics about alcohol-related sexual assault in college: 

  • 13 percent of all students are raped or experience some form of sexual assault through physical force, violence, or incapacitation in college4
  • Among undergraduate students, 26.4 percent of females and 6.8 percent of males experience rape or sexual assault
  • Among graduate and professional students, 10 percent of women and 2.5 percent of men are assaulted on campus
  • Meanwhile, 23.1 percent of TGQN (transgender, genderqueer, and nonconforming) college students have also been sexually assaulted.
  • Intimate partner violence (IPV) is also common; about two-thirds of all victims know their perpetrator

Students are at a higher risk at certain times of the year. For example, more than half of college sexual assaults happen from August to November.4 These times are consistent with the first few months of the first semesters in college.

These numbers are likely much higher since not all rape or sexual assault cases are reported. Only 20 percent of female student victims, ages 18 to 24, report their cases to law enforcement professionals. This is because people often do not believe the victims’ stories. Rape victims also fear social penalization.

What Percentage of College Sexual Assaults Involve Alcohol?

At least half of all sexual assaults that happen to college students are associated with alcohol use.1 The prevalence of alcohol consumption on college campuses is high. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA): 

  • About nine percent of full-time college students ages 18 to 22 meet the criteria for alcohol use disorder (AUD)
  • About 97,000 students ages 18 to 24 report experiencing alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape
  • About 696,000 students ages 18 to 24 are assaulted in some way (not just sexually) by another student who has been drinking

Unfortunately, when alcohol is involved, victims are wrongfully blamed for “being too drunk.” But the reality is that rape, and sexual assault, are no one’s fault but the perpetrator’s.

It’s also important to note that an incapacitated person cannot legally give consent. Incapacitation refers to a state beyond drunkenness.

If someone is incapacitated, they may have the following symptoms:

  • Slurred speech or inability to speak coherently
  • Confusion
  • Inability to walk without assistance
  • Vomiting
  • Passing out

Alcohol-related sexual assault is a crime, just like non-alcohol-related sexual assault. Alcohol’s role in the assault does not change the fact that unwanted sexual acts are criminal offenses.

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Why Alcohol-Related Sexual Assault Happens in College

Alcohol-related sexual abuse and assault are problematic across all college campuses. They can happen due to the following reasons:

Rape Culture

Rape culture refers to an environment where rape and sexual assault are normalized and excused. It’s perpetuated through:

  • The objectification of women’s bodies
  • Misogynistic language
  • The glamorization of sexual violence
  • A systemic lack of accountability
  • And many other reasons

On college campuses, rape culture is partially a product of authority figures failing to punish perpetrators or to implement and enforce preventative policies. Many colleges sweep rapes and assaults under the rug to uphold their reputations.

Examples of rape culture include:

Victim-blaming 

This refers to blaming the victim for how they were dressed, how much alcohol they drank, walking home alone at night, etc. It wrongfully implies that the victim was “asking for it.”

Minimizing sexual assault 

This refers to chalking up the sexual assault as being “not that bad” because it wasn’t as bad as it "could" have been. All sexual assault is bad.

It also refers to trivializing sexual assault with phrases like:

  • Boys will be boys
  • They didn’t mean it like that; they’re a nice person
  • I’ve never known them to be like that
  • They were just drunk

Publicly scrutinizing a victim’s motives and sexual history

This includes asking questions such as, “Why was she wearing that?” and “What did she do before this happened?”

It can also include slut-shaming, when you criticize women for their sexual preferences or experiences, both consensual and non-consensual.

Pressuring men to “score”

This means that if a man doesn't have sex, he's seen as less of a man than someone who does. This pressure can come from:

  •  Media
  • Friends
  • Family
  • Strangers on social media

Sometimes, people define manhood as sexually aggressive and womanhood as sexually passive. 

Failing to teach men not to rape

Rather than teaching men not to rape, many teach women not to wear certain clothes, walk in certain areas, or drink too much. This can also include not having a collaborative conversation about criminalizing perpetrators.

Enabling and excusing sexual violence

Being passive bystanders to sexual harassment, violence, and assault is part of rape culture. It also includes the use of sexually explicit and degrading jokes that carry real implications.

Date Rape Drugs

Date rape drugs are rampant on college campuses. Assaulters can slip them into a drink without the victim knowing.

They confuse the victim, unable to defend themselves against unwanted sexual contact. They can render them unconscious and wipe a victim’s memory.

Drugs that can be used as date rape drugs include:

  • Marijuana
  • Cocaine
  • prescription or OTC drugs like antidepressants and antianxiety drugs
  • Ketamine
  • Flunitrazepam (Rohypnol)
  • Gamma-butyrolactone (GBL)
  • Gamma-hydroxybutyric acid (GHB)

Sometimes, a victim may accept a drug. But the sexual offender can lace it with other substances to which the victim did not consent. Almost 11 million women across the country have been raped when drunk, drugged, or high.

Peer Pressure and College Party Culture

College parties often lead to students feeling pressured to engage in risky behaviors. During these events, students are pressured to drink more even if they don't want to. Heavy drinking can increase the risk of sexual assault.

Other Risks of College Alcohol Abuse

Sexual assault is not the only problem among young people involved in underage alcohol abuse. Other risks of college alcohol abuse include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Alcoholism
  • Death
  • Overdose
  • Accidents
  • Legal Trouble
  • Academic Problems
  • Physical Health Issues
  • Mental Health Issues

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How to Protect Yourself 

While there are certain precautions you can take to help protect yourself from campus sexual assault, victim-blaming is wrong.

No incidence of rape or sexual assault is ever the victim’s fault. Rapists and sexual predators should be held accountable for their crimes.

You can take precautions like sticking in groups, keeping an eye on your drink, and learning self-defense. But rape and sexual assault can happen to anyone.

No matter what you wear or how much you have to drink, rape and sexual assault are never warranted. Never let anyone tell you otherwise. 

How to Report Sexual Assault on College Campuses

Reporting sexual assault on college campuses may feel scary. But it’s important to report sexual assault on college campuses to prevent sexual victimization and violence against women from continuing.

Of course, reporting sexual assault is not always safe for victims. Many sexually victimized students drop out of college. The dropout rate for these students is 34.1 percent, which is higher than the overall university dropout rate of 29.8 percent.

To help victims feel safe and heard, resources are available:

Call for emergency help if you’re in immediate danger 

If you need immediate emergency attention, call 911. They will connect you to campus police and medical services.

Go somewhere safe 

Go somewhere as safe as possible, if you can. When you get there, do not:

  • Change your clothes
  • Bathe
  • Douche
  • Urinate
  • Defecate
  • Brush your teeth
  • Eat
  • Drink

Understandably, you may want to cleanse yourself. However, it’s essential not to wash away the evidence.

Confide in someone you trust 

Having someone who has your best interest in mind can help you heal. They can also help you navigate the reporting process, which can feel invasive and triggering.

Report the case 

Make sure you report the case to campus security and the police. This will help you receive support and resources. It can also increase security measures at your school.

Seek medical attention

Make sure you tell the doctor that you want to receive medical attention for a crime. You can choose to have a sexual assault forensic exam.

Know your rights

You do not have to do anything you don’t want to do. If you feel uncomfortable, you can quit the reporting process anytime. Also, note that there is no limitation on when you can report a crime to the police. It’s never too late.

Reach out for support 

Support groups are available for victims of rape and sexual assault. Here are some resources to learn more or report a case:

If you or someone you know has been raped or sexually assaulted, reach out for help as soon as possible. You do not have to endure recovery alone.

Begin your journey towards lasting recovery
Call us (866) 928-4133
Updated on February 4, 2023
17 sources cited
Updated on February 4, 2023
All Alcoholrehabhelp content is medically reviewed or fact checked to ensure as much factual accuracy as possible.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only link to reputable media sites, academic research institutions and, whenever possible, medically peer reviewed studies.
  1. Abbey, A. “Alcohol-Related Sexual Assault: a Common Problem among College Students.” Journal of Studies on Alcohol. Supplement, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2002.
  2. “The Effects of Sexual Assault.” Advocacy, 2018. 
  3. “Alcohol and Consent.” The University of Tulsa, 2019.
  4. “Campus Sexual Violence: Statistics.” RAINN. 
  5. Mengo, C., and Black, B.M. “Violence Victimization on a College Campus: Impact on GPA and School Dropout.” SAGE Journals, 2016. 
  6. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “College Drinking.” 
  7. “Date Rape Drugs.” Womenshealth.gov., 2019. 
  8. Hasselaar, E., et al. “Closing the Gender Gap.” World Economic Forum.
  9. Horowitz, J.M., and Igielnik, R. “A Century After Women Gained the Right To Vote, Majority of Americans See Work To Do on Gender Equality.” Pew Research Center, 2020. 
  10. “My Body My Rights.” Amnesty International. 
  11. “Rape Culture, Victim Blaming, And The Facts.” Southern Connecticut State University. 
  12. “Rape Culture.” Marshall University. 
  13. “Reporting to Law Enforcement.” RAINN.
  14. “Sex, Drugs & Alcohol.” Trustees of Dartmouth College.
  15. Lamb, S., and Koven, J. “Sexualization of Girls: Addressing Criticism of the APA Report, Presenting New Evidence” SAGE Journals, 2019. 
  16. “Supporting Student Survivors.” Sexual Harassment & Rape Prevention Program (SHARPP),  2019.
  17. “What To Do After Sexual Misconduct Occurs.” Cornell College.

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