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College Football and Sexual Violence

Back in February, Morning Edition on NPR did a story about the connection between college football, binge drinking and sexual violence on campus called, “Is There a Connection Between College Football Games and Risks for Rape?” At first, I immediately dismissed the premise, thinking it was a cheap grab at headlines, but then I read the story. The research shows reports of rape increase by 41 percent at home games and 15 percent for away games. Interesting, but what is the story behind the numbers?

First, it is not incidents of rape that increased drastically, it is “reports” of rape. We know the majority of sexual assault goes unreported, so it’s noteworthy that reports of rape go up. Upon further examination of this new research, it shows many of the reported rapes are perpetrated by strangers. That’s in stark contrast to conventional research that shows “In eight out of 10 cases of rape, the victim knew the person who sexually assaulted them” (Lisak, D., Gardinier, L., Nicksa, S. C., & Cote, A. M. 2010). Of course, I am not trying to dismiss the new findings, but rather, emphasize that these cases being reported are outside the norm for what we know about sexual assault.

Second, researchers link college football games to intense partying and alcohol use. Studies have linked alcohol use to sexual assault, not a causal relationship, but a correlated one. Since college students tend to center parties on the successes and failures of football teams, it is reasonable to assume that sexual assault would increase during these times.

Finally, the point of the report was not to vilify college football, but to encourage service providers and prevention efforts to focus on college football game days. That is certainly something we can all get behind. We can use game days as a focal point for awareness campaigns and bystander intervention efforts and the impetus to teach students to hold parties in ways that are safe for their guests.

To read more about this story, click here.

Lisak, D., Gardinier, L., Nicksa, S. C., & Cote, A. M. (2010). False allegations of sexual assault: An analysis of ten years of reported cases. Violence Against Women, 16, 1318-1334. doi:10.1177/1077801210387747 (k) Lonsway, K. A., Archambault, J., & Lisak, D. (2009).