Heavy Drinking Increases Risk for Sexual Assault, Health Officials Say
With spring break right around the corner, startling facts about sexual assault take on increased significance. College students traditionally drink excessively during this time, health officials said.
“Alcohol is the number 1 date rape drug,” said Mary Wyandt-Hiebert, director of STAR Central at the Pat Walker Health Center. STAR Central is the Office of Support, Training, Advocacy and Resources on Sexual Assault and Relationship Violence.
One in six American women have been the victim of an attempted or completed rape, according to the National Institute of Justice and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. An estimated 7 to 10 percent of men have been victims of sexual assault at some point in their lives, according to the 2005 National Crime Victimization Study, which is compiled by the U.S. Department of Justice.
College-age women are more likely to be victims of rape than any other age group—80 percent of victims are younger than 30.
“Girls ages 16 to 19 are four times more likely than the general population to be victims of rape, attempted rape or sexual assault,” according to the 2004 National Crime Victimization Survey.
Several national studies have shown that 60 to 90 percent of sexual assaults on college campuses involve alcohol, with the victim, perpetrator or both being under the influence, Wyandt-Hiebert said.
“The vast majority of people I see who have been victims of sexual violence have been extremely intoxicated. Usually alcohol,” she said.
Occasionally, she sees incidents of date rape drugs.
“A red flag goes up when the person says, ‘I only had one beer, or one glass of wine,’ and then felt extremely intoxicated,” she said.
More than 20 different drugs can be used during rapes, including Rohypnol, GHB and Ketamine, Wyandt-Hiebert said.
By the time someone reports an assault, date rape drugs have already been metabolized out of the body, she said.
As required by law, UAPD releases the annual Clery Report, which publishes crimes that happen on college campuses nationwide. Sexual assault incidents on campus have declined from 11 in 2008 to two in 2010, according to the report.
“Just because the Clery Report shows a decline doesn’t mean that it is declining per se, it just depends on where the incidents happen,” Wyandt-Hiebert said. “I certainly don’t feel like I’m getting any less busy.”
Counseling services for sexual assault victims are still in high demand.
The categories used in the Clery Report lead to misleading information because the divisions are “self-limiting,” Wyandt-Hiebert said.
Because the Clery Report only documents cases that happen on property owned or used by the university, the report leaves out many other cases that affect students. For example, if a student is raped in a Fayetteville apartment, then the Fayetteville Police Department is responsible for the case and it will not show up in the report, Wyandt-Hiebert said.
The psychological effects of rape on a victim can be complex and everlasting. Victims of sexual assault are three times more likely to suffer from depression, six times more likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, 13 times more likely to abuse alcohol, 26 times more likely to abuse drugs, and four times more likely to contemplate suicide, according to the World Health Organization.
“It’s devastating to their lives,” said mental health therapist Sharon Nelson of Nelson Counseling in Rogers.
“There are long-term repercussions: it affects them emotionally, mentally, spiritually, sexually and socially.”
Sexual assault is one of the most under-reported crimes in the nation. More than 60 percent of rapes never are reported to the police. “Factoring in unreported rapes, only about 6 percent of rapists ever serve a day in jail,” according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
“We call sexual assault the silent epidemic because so many incidents are not reported,” Wyandt-Hiebert said. “On college campuses, only about 5 percent of sexual assaults are reported to authorities.”
Counselors often deal with victims who have chosen not to go to the police.
“Reporting the crime is a process that is frightening in itself. Talking about it to people who are looking for facts as opposed to feelings is unsettling for victims,” Nelson said. “What a personal thing to be under a microscope for. It overwhelms me to think about it.”
The Health Center offers counseling services through several programs, including STAR Central, Rape Education Services by Peers Encouraging Conscious Thought, and CAPS Counseling and Psychological Services.