Unfortunately, recent articles about sexual assaults on the Davidson campus have again highlighted the serious problem that exists on every college and university campus across the U.S. If statistics are to be believed, as many as one in five women will be assaulted during their time on campus.
As the father of four daughters, I find this both shocking and scary. As a physician who has cared for many college students from various area colleges, I can tell you that alcohol abuse on college campuses is a major problem and is at the root of many of the sexual assaults.
Davidson President Carol Quillen notes that the majority of sexual assaults on college campuses are related in some way to alcohol use – either the perpetrator or the victim/survivor – or both – have been drinking before the assault. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) says 80 percent of college students will drink while at college, and at least 25 percent of college students drink alcohol at a level that is regarded as problematic in the general population.
These statistics should scare us all. If these same problems were seen in an occupational setting or in hospitals, there would be major calls for action. A 2014 article on binge drinking in colleges in the New York Times found that almost all were failing to change drinking behavior. Research shows that providing the right information on campuses has not changed behavior. Enforcement changes behavior.
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Unfortunately, recent data from University of Minnesota researchers found that colleges across the U.S. do little to enforce existing rules. Fewer than half of colleges consistently enforce their alcohol policies at tailgates, in dormitories and at fraternity and sorority houses. Only about 60 percent of campus law-enforcement officials said they almost always proactively enforced alcohol policies.
A survey of students who had violated their colleges’ alcohol policies found that parental notification, going through the criminal-justice system or being required to enter an alcohol treatment program would be more of a deterrent than fines and warnings.
Colleges know what the problems are but really don’t want to address the underlying problems – cheap and easy access to alcohol, fake IDs and lenient attitudes toward underage drinking. Fraternities and sororities are associated with the biggest alcohol-related problems on most campuses yet are like a third rail for most college presidents because boosters and alumni defend the student’s right to party.
Alcohol abuse alone is bad enough but when combined with the odorless and tasteless date rape drug Rohypnol or GHB, it is an extremely dangerous combination. That’s why the University of Minnesota advises students to never leave a beverage unattended, accept drinks only from the bartender or server, do not accept open-container drinks from anyone and be alert to friends' behavior. Also, students should create a plan with friends before going out to watch out for one another.
This is a sad commentary on our times, but it is reality. Parents should insist that colleges enforce existing state and school policies regarding alcohol use if we want to reduce sexual assaults on campus. A cultural change is definitely needed.
Dr. Kevin Soden is a medical journalist and a former director of the UNCC student health service.