Abstract: Students' Perceptions of the Interplay between Sexual Violence and Alcohol Consumption at a Large Public University in Los Angeles, California (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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Students' Perceptions of the Interplay between Sexual Violence and Alcohol Consumption at a Large Public University in Los Angeles, California

Sunday, January 15, 2023
Paradise Valley, 2nd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Claire Amabile, Student, University of California, Los Angeles
Stephanie Kathan, MSSW, PhD Student, University of California, Los Angeles, CA
Jennifer Wagman, PhD, Associate Professor, University of California, Los Angeles
Background and purpose: Across the globe, campuses and university students remain at risk of experiencing sexual violence and sexual harassment (SVSH). SVSH can lead to myriad of poor health outcomes, including anxiety, depression, disordered eating, suicide ideation, sexually transmitted infections, unintended pregnancies and more. College-aged students are likely to engage in alcohol consumption, and alcohol consumption can exacerbate risk of experiencing and/or perpetrating SVSH. The present study explores undergraduate students’ perceptions of how alcohol and SVSH interact, and how universities can enhance SVSH prevention programming to incorporate the relationship between the two.

Methods: From January to June of 2018, a team of researchers (composed of students, staff, and faculty) conducted in-depth interviews and focus group discussions with 60 undergraduate students at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Audio recordings of each session were transcribed verbatim. A team of four student researchers coded each transcript using Dedoose software and salient themes emerged.

Results: Students at UCLA believed alcohol consumption was a problem at their campus. They felt that alcohol consumption commonly occurred at social events, and that it led to an increased risk of both intended and unintended incidents of SVSH. Alcohol was believed to confuse perceptions of giving and receiving consent. Participants pointed to alcohol consumption and incidence of SVSH occurring at high rates among Greek communities, particularly at fraternity houses, and among high revenue generating athletic teams (like football or basketball). UCLA students expressed that their peers who had experienced SVSH under the influence of alcohol were less inclined to choose to report it. Bystander intervention was the most well-recognized form of preventing SVSH, but students expressed that the ability to recognize a potentially risky situation was inhibited while intoxicated. Students felt that, while the UCLA trainings on SVSH were well-intended, they did not adequately address how SVSH and alcohol interact with one another.

Conclusions and implications: Findings reflect a dearth of training on the connection between SVSH and alcohol consumption on UCLA’s campus. This paper calls for increased efforts to create synergies between substance use and SVSH prevention within campus-based educational programming. Data demonstrates that students would benefit from trainings that are tailored to various student groups with unique needs (e.g., students of color, members of the LGBTQ+ community, international students). Findings also point to the need to increase survivor-centered conversations regarding how alcohol consumption may blur perceptions of sexual consent to break down victim-blaming stigma that currently shrouds the university’s responses to SVSH. This study is limited in that these findings are likely not generalizable for college and university cultures outside of the United States. Further research is needed to fully understand how alcohol affects groups historically accused of perpetrating SVSH (i.e., members of athletic teams and fraternity organizations).