“Alcohol, Behavioral Norms and Sexual Violence on U.S. College Campuses” by Professor Paul Seabright
Professor Paul Seabright
Professor of Economics
Toulouse School of Economics
This paper explores the role of social norms in determining the incidence of sexual assault, and the contribution of alcohol to such events. We build a decision theoretic model where agents may choose to use alcohol as a “disinhibitor” to undermine social norms discouraging consensual sexual encounters outside marriage. This has the side-effect of making non-consensual encounters more likely. By making the resort to alcohol more attractive, stronger norms against consensual sex may increase the incidence of non-consensual sex. We test this theory on data from US college campuses: colleges located in counties without Planned Parenthood clinics, as well as those with a religious affiliation, have more incidents of rape and sexual assault in which alcohol is implicated. We explore rival explanations such as reporting biases. Estimates on a restricted sub-sample for which attitudinal data are available show a strong association of assault with norms against consensual pre-marital sex. Restrictions on availability of alcohol substantially reduce the frequency of such incidents. All else equal, the average variation between secular and religious campuses in the incidence of assaults with alcohol is three times higher than the variation on any particular campus between weekdays and weekends.