Drinking linked with many sexual assaults

This is the first article in a three-part series regarding the consequences of excessive drinking.

By Kaytlyn L. Sheldon

Special to the Osceola Edition

Someone in the United States is sexually assaulted every two minutes according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network.

In fact, one out of three women will be sexually assaulted during her lifetime.

Sexual assault includes rape in any form, (stranger, acquaintance, date and marital), forced sexual contact and sexual harassment. A situation becomes one of sexual assault when a person is coerced or forced into sexual activity in which she/he does not want to be involved or to which she/he is unable to consent.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism estimates that at least 25 percent of American women have been sexually assaulted in adolescence or adulthood and that 18 percent have been raped. Furthermore, at least 20 percent of American men report having perpetrated sexual assault and 5 percent report having committed rape.

At least one-half of all sexual assaults involve alcohol consumption by the perpetrator, the victim, or both.

Alcohol consumption by perpetrators and victims tends to co-occur – that is, when one of them is drinking, the other one is generally drinking as well. Rarely is only the victim drinking alcohol.

On a local level, Women’s Information Services (WISE) sexual assault advocate Amber Howell estimates that 25 percent of sexual assaults in Mecosta, Osceola, and Newaygo counties involved alcohol.

Under the law, if a victim is under the influence of alcohol or other drugs, she/he is not able to consent to having sex.

WISE is a non-profit domestic violence and sexual assault crisis support agency that provides services for sexual assault survivors and their significant others.

“One goal of the WISE Sexual Assault Program is to help survivors work through their individual healing process by listening and offering tools to assist them in dealing with their situation,” explained Howell.

In the past year, 44 individuals used WISE’s 24-hour crisis hotline, while 167 individuals utilized the organization’s supportive counseling services in both Mecosta and Osceola counties.

“Another goal of the Sexual Assault Program is to increase awareness and education about sexual violence issues both for sexual assault prevention and to provide additional community support to survivors,” added Howell.

According to a 2010 Michigan Department of Community Health study focused on ninth through twelfth grade students attending Michigan public high schools, 15 percent of current drinkers (those who reported having at least one drink of alcohol in the past 30 days) have been physically forced to have sex compared to 6 percent of nondrinkers (those who reported not drinking any alcohol in the past 30 days).

“There are higher rates of assault, date rape, pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases among teens who drink compared to teens who do not drink alcohol,” said Mecosta-Osceola Coalition to Reduce Underage Drinking (MOCRUD) prevention coordinator Kim Livingston. “Teens who drink alcohol have impaired judgment and can be easily victimized.”

For the year 2009, the Michigan State Police reports one sexual assault where the offender used alcohol in Mecosta County, while three were reported in Osceola County. The victims ranged in age from 6 to 17.

It is most likely that more sexual assaults occurred than were reported. Sexual assault has been called a silent epidemic because it occurs at high rates yet is rarely reported to the authorities.

Several reasons contribute to the underreporting of sexual assault cases. Many victims do not tell others about the assault because they fear that they will not be believed. Other victims may not realize that they have actually experienced legally defined rape or sexual assault.

“When teens drink, driving is not the only thing we need to worry about,” added Livingston. “Teens who drink are more likely to engage in sex and less likely to use protection.”

MOCRUD is a community-driven organization that is dedicated to raising awareness for the reduction of underage drinking, alcohol abuse, as well as drinking and driving.

If you have a passion for reducing underage drinking and would like to be a part of MOCRUD, please call Kim Livingston at (231) 527-2000.

For more information on the numerous therapeutic and advocacy programs WISE offers, please contact the Mecosta County center at (231) 796-6600 or the Osceola County center at (231) 832-9034.

Special thanks to Trooper Travis House and Department Specialist Wendy Easterbrook from the Michigan State Police for their help with local statistics for this article.