ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. -- Sexual violence - forcing or manipulating someone into unwanted sexual activity without their consent, is a serious public health problem that affects every community in the United States. Sexual violence can happen to anyone regardless of age, gender or sexual orientation. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one in three women and nearly one in four men experience sexual violence during their lifetime.
Alcohol does not cause sexual violence, but it can be a significant contributing risk factor leading to aggression and loss of inhibition. Alcohol and other sedatives impair a person's physical and mental abilities, and in the context of sexual violence, can make it easier for an offender to commit a crime and even prevent the victim from recalling the assault.
Studies by groups like the Maryland Collaborative to Reduce College Drinking and Related Problems looked at colleges and alcohol-related sexual violence incidents and showed that half happened when the victim, offender, or both had been drinking. Department of Defense surveillance data indicates that alcohol use by a victim or alleged offender was a factor in 62 percent of incidents involving DOD women compared to 49 percent for DOD men.
Consider that alcohol use is related to the risk for sexual violence in the same way that wet floors can contribute to falls: people can slip and fall on a dry floor, but the presence of water or other fluids increases a person’s susceptibility for experiencing a dangerous fall. In the same vein, sexual violence can and does happen without alcohol use by the offender or victim, but the presence of alcohol increases a person’s susceptibility for experiencing sexual violence. It is important to emphasize that sexual violence is never the victim’s fault, regardless of whether they were sober or drinking when it occurred.
According to Own Your Limits, part of the DOD’s education campaign to prevent alcohol abuse, there are things you can do to stay safe.
- Own your limit. Everyone’s drinking limit is different. If you are not sure of your limit or you are worried about going over your limit, ask a friend to tell you if you should stop drinking. Later, you can return the favor.
- Drink with people you trust. Remember though, even friends you trust may overstep boundaries when they are drinking.
- Slow down and think about how you feel as you are drinking. If you feel you have had too much, slow down, drink some water, stop drinking or have a friend take you home.
- Have a plan…and a back-up plan. Things do not always go the way you think they will. Make sure you have a safe way home or to a trusted friend’s place.
- Trust your gut. If something does not feel right, get out of that situation.
- Cut back. If you know that drinking puts you at risk for making decisions you cannot take back, it is okay to say no.
If you are affected by sexual assault, get help 24/7 at the DOD Safe Helpline or call 877-995-5247 to talk to someone. For more information about the Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention Program (SHARP), visit sexualassault.army.mil. If you are concerned about your alcohol use, the Community Resource Guide is a tool to connect you to substance abuse prevention and treatment resources.
The U.S. Army Public Health Center enhances Army readiness by identifying and assessing current and emerging health threats, developing, and communicating public health solutions, and assuring the quality and effectiveness of the Army’s Public Health Enterprise.