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Substance use and sexual violence

Sexual violence can happen to anyone, regardless of age, race, income level, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation and education level. However, certain risk factors can make a person more likely to become a victim; consuming alcohol and drug use are among those factors (The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 2007). Like sexual violence, drug and alcohol abuse and addiction cross all societal boundaries and is an issue in all communities in Pennsylvania and across the nation.

People who commit sexual violence often target individuals who lack power in the community, such as people with addictions; women; people with disabilities; elders; children; teens; people of color; lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered individuals; immigrants, migrants, and refugees; individuals who speak English as a second language; people living in poverty; people with criminal records; the homeless; sex workers; prisoners and others. Perpetrators deliberately target individuals who will be less likely to report the assault or when they do tell someone, less likely to be believed.

Substances, such as alcohol, GHB, Ketamine or Rohypnol (a.k.a. the date rape drug), may have given to the victim by the person who committed the sexual abuse to make the victim unable to make sound decisions or pass out. Someone may have used or abused substances before an assault occurred, or started using substances as a way to deal with the assault. Substance abuse and sexual victimization are both viewed negatively in the community, and when a victim/survivor holds both, the shame can be especially difficult to overcome. These feelings can compound the challenges of the healing process and increase feelings of blame, shame and isolation.

At least 80 percent of college students who were sexually assaulted were under the influence of alcohol (Core Alcohol and Drug Survey. Core Institute, University of Southern Illinois, 2003).