The Corpus Callosum

Sexual assault is a common and serious problem.  It is
hypothesized that misconceptions (rape myths) may play a role in this.

About 50% of sexual assaults involving adolescent or young adult female
victims occur in the context of alcohol consumption.  The
authors of a recent study from the University of Michigan Institute for
Research on Women and Gender and the Substance Abuse Research Center
investigated this in a recent study.  The full text is $ for
access, but the abstract is openly accessible and a press release is
available here.


M. Young
, Sean
Esteban McCabe
, and Carol
J. Boyd

Psychology of Women Quarterly
Volume 31 Issue 3 Page 229-240, September 2007

The purpose of this study was to document
whether adolescents make inferences regarding male and female vignette
characters in terms of the characters’ sexuality, social skills,
impairment, and aggressiveness when the characters consume alcohol. A
Web-based survey of 1,691 middle and high school students (grades
6–11) from diverse socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds was
conducted. The Dating Vignette and Subjective Perception Form (George,
Gournic, & McAfee, 1988) were modified for use with an
adolescent sample and embedded within the Web-based survey. There were
significant interaction effects between the male and female characters’
alcohol consumption in terms of the respondents’ perception of the
female character for all of the subscales examined (i.e., sexual
disinhibition, social skills, impairment, and aggressiveness). In
contrast, there were no significant interactions between the
characters’ drinking and the respondents’ perception of the male
character. Collectively, these findings suggest that adolescents’
perceptions of girls are based not only on the girls’ own drinking
behaviors, but also their male partners’ drinking behaviors.

This is pretty much what one would expect, but it is good to have
confirmation.  People tend to not rate males as any more
promiscuous, based upon level of alcohol consumption.
 However, they do tend to think of young women who drink as
being more promiscuous.  

This is explained in the text:

Leigh (1995) and others have argued that
the origin of the stereotype is rooted in the notion that it is the
woman’s responsibility to uphold purity and morality for
society by maintaining the Madonna persona in terms of sacrifice of
personal needs to attend to the needs of others. In contrast, the drunk
female is considered the whore who represents the denigration of
society. Moreover, by breaking from traditional notions of femininity,
the drunk female’s inability to control her alcohol
consumption and libidinous behavior provides a threat to existing power
relationships between men or boys and women or girls, because in such
conditions men no longer have exclusive control and rights over their
female partner’s sexuality (Leigh, 1995). In this respect,
the image of the drunken woman or girl also invokes a sense of agency,
albeit agency associated with negative connotations, because her
expression of free will comes at the cost of fulfilling her role of
wife and mother.

The authors do point out that it is somewhat speculative to ascribe a
causal relationship to rape myths, and the actual perpetration of
sexual assault.  

Therefore, it is imperative to explore
whether the sexual inferences adolescents make about girls who drink
are associated with the high rate of sexual assault among this age
group, especially because the involvement of alcohol in sexual assault
appears to be just as common among adolescents as adults.

Aside from the question of causality, there is another issue here that
the authors explore. That is, do the stereotypes about girls who drink
affect blame attribution?  Their study did not address this
directly, but they identify it as an area of concern for possible
further research:

To establish this link empirically, future
studies should include in the vignettes a dating encounter that results
in the sexual assault victimization on the part of the female
character.  Previous studies with adult populations (e.g.,
Norris & Cubbins, 1992; Norris, Davis, George, Martell,
& Heiman, 2002) using alcohol vignettes that end in sexual
aggression suggest that sex-related expectancies about alcohol
predicted the acceptability of sexual aggression as measured with
cognitive judgments of assailant force and victim enjoyment.
Particularly given the relevance of rape myths among adolescents, one
would anticipate greater blame for the outcome placed on the female
character when she is consuming alcohol than when she is not.

The issue of the attribution of blame is an important one.  It
is an area in which stereotypes can play a large role.  The
research that Young et. al. have done on this can
be important in helping people to understand their stereotypes,
hopefully leading to clearer thinking.  This can be important
especially in criminal cases, when juries
are called upon to make judgments
.  It also is
important in the context of psychotherapy with victims, their loved
ones, and perhaps with perpetrators.


  1. #1 charmamayne
    August 29, 2007

    my 14 year old foster daughter does not believe this will happen to her with her “friends”. she has been assaulted in the past, perhaps this has something to do with it. she runs away frequently and spend sher evenings drinking at skate parks, smoking dope and hanging with people she barely knows and who regularly “dice” her (leave her on her own).

    she is very promiscuous with serious boundary issues and appears determined to invite as much danger as possible to prove “adults” wrong in their fears. my sister and i have shared our stories from young dayz about drinking, rhohies, other drugs, set-ups, rape and attempted suicide.

    my girl is a lost soul at present who despises what she takes for granted and courts a whole lot of sorrow. maybe one day, if she makes it, she will be doing the research on a subject such as this

  2. #2 Dirkh
    August 30, 2007

    “Are Alcohol-consuming Adolescent Girls More Promiscuous?”

    Some research suggests that they are:

    –“Women drug users are at increased risk for unprotected sex…and multiple sex partners.” –Mott, F.L.,, “Linkages between sexual activity and alcohol and drug use among American adolescents.” FAMILY PLANNING PERSPECTIVE, 20(3) 128-136 1988.

    See also: “Women under the Influence”
    The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University
    foreword by Joseph A. Califano, Jr.

  3. #3 Organic Chemistry Help
    September 24, 2007

    From talking with my son’s friends on the topic (he is 16, so a bit older). They say that girls who drink are more ready to “party” than other girls, and that they feel more comfortable talking to these girls when they are drinking. Not sure if that psychology has anything to do with the article.

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