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Study Links Binge Drinking, Rapes on College Campuses

Posted - Feb. 12, 2004 at 3:40 p.m.



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Women who attend colleges with a higher rate of binge drinking are more likely to be raped while intoxicated, according to a national study released Thursday.

The three-year study, which sampled women at 119 schools in 40 states, found that since the beginning of the current school year, one in 20 women reported being raped in college, Nearly three-quarters of the incidents happened when victims were so intoxicated they were unable to say no, it found.

The study defines binge drinking as five or more drinks in a row for men and four or more drinks in a row for women. A college where more than 50 percent of the student body reported instances of binge drinking is considered to have a high rate. One where fewer than 35 percent of students were binge drinkers is considered to have a low rate.

``The major form of rape on college campuses is when a woman is unable to consent because of being under the influence,'' said Henry Wechsler, one of the authors of the study and director of the College Alcohol Studies program at the Harvard School of Public Health.

``I want to make sure that colleges are not just aware of this but try to coordinate their alcohol ... programs and policies with rape policies,'' he said.

The ease with which college students can obtain low-cost liquor, and the prevailing notion that alcohol is an inherent part of college life, play a significant part in persuading college students to turn to drinking as way of having fun, Wechsler said.

``If you give people a situation in which it's cheaper to get drunk than go to a movie on a weekend, you may induce some people to drink more than they would under other circumstances,'' he said.

Researchers said certain campus environments also play a role in putting women at risk.

They noted that women who live in sorority houses on campuses with high binge drinking rates are at a greater risk of rape because of the heavy drinking that is associated with college sorority and fraternity life. Dorm parties and parties around college athletic associations also pose a greater risk to women, they said.

``It's not something that's inherent in the sorority as an organization, (but) sororities are synonymous for high alcohol environments,'' said Mary Koss, a professor of public health at the University of Arizona who co-authored the study appearing in Thursday's edition of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol.

``It's the alcohol of fraternity life and the fact that sorority women socialize within this environment that is causing the risk,'' she said.

The association of wild beer bashes and the much-maligned Greek system is unfair, said Martha Brown, chairwoman of the National Panhellenic Conference, an umbrella organization representing 26 women's sororities.

``It's a perception that Greek organizations have to fight all the time. We work with our chapters ... and university officials to try to combat not only the presence of alcohol and drugs, (but) the misconception Greeks are the premier groups to binge-drink,'' Brown said.

While alcohol policies vary among fraternities, all sororities enforce a no-alcohol and no-drug policy and have strict rules about male visitation, making sorority houses some of the more safe and comfortable places to live on a college campus, Brown said.

Researchers said university officials have to do more to crack down on alcohol abuse among its student body and drop the attitude among some institutions that binge drinking is simply a ``harmless rite of passage'' for college students.

I don't think anyone believes you have to binge drink in order to have fun. Developmentally, it's not a good idea,'' Koss said.You don't learn how to function socially and handle the little bit of stress and personal doubt that's involved in socializing if you're always socializing drunk,'' she said.

On the Web:

Harvard College Alcohol Study: www.hsph.harvard.edu/cas/

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(The Cox web site is at http://www.coxnews.com )

c.2004 Cox News Service

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