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Alcohol's Role in Sexual Violence Perpetration: Theoretical Explanations, Existing Evidence and Future Directions

NCJ Number
Drug and Alcohol Review Volume: 30 Issue: 5 Dated: September 2011 Pages: 481-489
Antonia Abbey
Date Published
September 2011
9 pages

Since there is controversy regarding the extent to which alcohol plays a causal role in sexual assault perpetration, this study critically reviews the relevant alcohol administration and survey research literature.


The research reviewed suggests that alcohol interacts with personality and aspects of the situation, adding to the risk of perpetration among men already predisposed to engaging in sexual aggression. Most of the research on alcohol's role in sexual assault has been conducted during the last two decades. Alcohol administration researchers have shown that intoxicated men react more favorably to date rape scenarios than do sober men. A few researchers have begun to consider how alcohol consumption interacts with pre-existing personality traits and attitudes that have been identified as risk factors for sexual assault perpetration. In these studies, men with attitudes that support violence toward women are particularly likely to report that they would behave in a sexually aggressive manner when intoxicated. Additional research is needed in order to examine other risk factors in order to determine how alcohol consumption interacts with personality, beliefs, past experiences, and peer group and cultural norms. Because alcohol is one of many factors that contribute to sexual assault perpetration, it must be considered in context rather than isolation. For some men, on some occasions, alcohol may be the final straw that produces sexual violence. On other occasions, perhaps with stronger social norms against violence, alcohol consumption may not lead to sexual aggression. Thus, situational factors (for example, type of social occasion, presence of others) should be systematically manipulated and evaluated. Most of the research reviewed was conducted with college students in the United States. It is important to replicate and extend this research in other countries with representative community samples, as well as college students. 68 references