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Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism [NIAAA], 2002) more than 70,000 students aged 18 to 24 are victims of alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape. Studies of date rape and sexual assault on college campuses suggest that alcohol use factors into the behavior of both assailants and victims. For example, Harrington and Leitenberg (1994) found that date rape victims who reported being at least “somewhat drunk” at the time of the assault believed that their assailants were also under the influence of alcohol. A study of assailants showed that 44 percent of the men had been drinking when they committed a sexual assault (Abbey et al., 1996). Given that many sexual assaults—especially acquaintance rape—are believed to be unreported, it is possible that alcohol figures into many more assaults than these studies indicate.

In addition to being more vulnerable to experiencing (or committing) sexual assault, young people who are drinking are also more likely to engage in risky sexual behavior. According to research by the Kaiser Family Foundation, young people are more likely to engage in consensual sexual activity after drinking and report that they “do more” sexually while using alcohol than they had planned. According to Strunin and Hingson (1992), 44 percent of sexually active teenagers report that they are more likely to have intercourse if they have been drinking. Based on analysis of 2001 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance data, Grunbaum and colleagues (2002) report that 23.4 percent of white youth, 24.1 percent of Latino youth, and 17.8 percent of African American youth reported using alcohol or other drugs at the time of their last sexual intercourse.

Young people are less likely to use a condom if they have been drinking, which puts them at risk for unplanned pregnancies and contracting sexually transmitted diseases and HIV (the virus that causes AIDS). More disturbing still is that young people seem to be aware that using alcohol influences their decisions about sexual behavior: 29 percent of 15- to 17-year-olds and 37 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds said that alcohol or drugs influenced their decision to do something sexual. In other words, young people choose to drink even though they realize that alcohol affects their decision making and may cause them to engage in sexual behaviors they would not do while sober.

Early onset of alcohol use has also been associated with unplanned and unprotected sex. A college survey conducted by the Boston University School of Public Health showed that among drinkers, those who had their first drink before the age of 13 were twice as likely to have unplanned sex and more than twice as likely to have unprotected sex (Hingson and Kenkel, 2004).

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