Research reveals link between sexual violence and substance use among students

Active* Consent, Union of Students in Ireland (USI) expand programme to combat sexual violence
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Findings emerged from a comprehensive analysis of a previously published study on alcohol, drug use, and experiences of social violence among first-year students in Ireland

New research has shed light on the connection between sexual violence incidence rates and alcohol consumption or drug use.

The study, which was conducted among first-year students, has been released by the Active* Consent program and the Union of Students in Ireland (USI).

Among women who reported experiencing sexual violence, one in three (35%) revealed that the perpetrators had used alcohol or drugs to incapacitate them.

Coercion was identified as the second most common tactic, affecting 34% of the women surveyed, followed by force or threat of force experienced by 20% of the respondents.

While the rates were lower for men, the study also revealed that 18% of male students who experienced sexual violence reported incapacitation due to alcohol or drugs as a tactic used by the perpetrators. Coercion was cited by 16% of men, while 8% experienced force or threat of force.

The research uncovered a significant correlation between patterns of alcohol consumption and the prevalence of non-consensual penetration among both male and female students. Approximately two-thirds (65%) of female respondents and 72% of male respondents were categorised as having a ‘hazardous pattern of alcohol consumption’.

Among female students, those who engaged in hazardous alcohol consumption or reported using cannabis within the past year had a non-consensual penetration rate of over 35%. This percentage rose to 44% for females who had used ecstasy and a startling 48% for those who had used cocaine or ketamine.

For male students, the experience of non-consensual penetration was particularly associated with recent drug use. Those who reported using drugs within the past 12 months were more likely to have experienced sexual violence.

These findings emerged from a comprehensive analysis of a previously published study on alcohol, drug use, and experiences of social violence among first-year students in Ireland.

The survey, conducted in 2020, revealed that 42% of female first-year students had experienced unwanted sexual touching since starting college, while 29% had experienced completed penetration against their will, similar to the definition of rape. Among male respondents, the figures were 22% and 9% respectively.

The release of these findings coincides with the launch of the Active* Consent program’s expanded initiative for 2023-27.

During the next cycle of the programme, Active* Consent will develop an international outreach project for Higher Education, expand its training to the private and public sector, and continue to work with schools, colleges, sports and community organisations throughout Ireland.

Under their research strand, the team will initiate new research that focuses on how ideas and roles concerning consent evolve for teenagers and young men.

The Active* Consent programme collaborates with Rugby Players Ireland, the collective voice of professional rugby players in Ireland. As part of the Player Development Programme, Active*Consent provides education and awareness-raising workshops and resources to players, encouraging open conversations on healthy relationships, emotional expression and personal responsibility.

The Active* Consent initiative is jointly supported by the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation & Science and the Department of Justice. Funding for the programme has come from the Dormant Accounts Fund.

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