That’s the short answer. The real, more complicated answer, is the result of a set of interconnected factors that have been tested and researched for many years. I learned more about this complex behavioral relationship at a presentation by Antonia Abbey, Professor of Psychology at Wayne State University.
Dr. Abbey walked us through her research, which explores how alcohol and sexual misconduct are intertwined, but not directly causally related. The first thing I learned is that when conducting this type of research, how you ask the questions really matters. Specifically, broad questions don’t get high rates of response, and the context that the questions are in can influence the results.
Sexual assaults are committed by sexual perpetrators, period. However, careful analysis showed that heavy drinking is linked to impersonal sex and misperception of sexual impact, which can influence sexual assaults. Alcohol also makes people feel comfortable acting on beliefs (that may be caused by past experiences, social norms, or casual sex environments, for instance) that lead to sexual misconduct.
The fact that alcohol is often involved in cases of sexual assault, such as rape, even indirectly, is scary, especially when alcohol is so widely available on many college campuses. The idea that drinking heavily might push someone to act on beliefs that it is justified to sexually assault someone else is equally disturbing.
We need to recognize, though, that alcohol doesn’t sexually assault someone, people do. That being said, sexual assault on college campuses is a serious problem, and more attention needs to be given to it both in and out of alcohol related contexts.