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Substance Abuse and Sexual Assault

Woman sitting who has suffered from a sexual assault

Sexual assault can happen to anyone, and various studies have found a connection between sexual assault in adolescence and subsequent substance misuse. Though past research primarily looked at this link in all-female studies, recent statistics show that sexual assault also happens to males. Regardless of whether a person identifies as male, female or a non-traditional gender, nobody is necessarily safe from experiencing sexual assault.

Sexual assault can have tremendously negative consequences on a teen’s mental, physical and emotional health. Understanding how to combat teen drug misuse and sexual assault is critical. In the event of sexual assault or other trauma, it’s important to help teens find the resources and treatment they need to begin healing.

Teen Sexual Assault Statistics

The relationship between teens and sexual assault, especially when those involved are under the influence of drugs or alcohol, is often complex and confusing. Substance use disorders appear to be strongly linked to interpersonal trauma. Researchers also observe the opposite — a history of substance misuse can increase a person’s risk for experiencing interpersonal traumas like sexual assault.

High school sexual assault statistics help provide a closer look at the nature of teen sexual assault. However, many victims of sexual assault or abuse feel pressure to avoid discussing or even reporting their trauma. Unfortunately, this means many sexual assault statistics are likely underreported or inaccurate. Unreported sexual assault statistics suggest that only about 25% of sexual assaults are reported to police, which is a startlingly low percentage.

Sexual Assault Statistics by Gender

Though recent studies include both males and females, male sexual assault statistics were not well-studied in the past. Additionally, women’s sexual assault statistics are likely grossly underreported, especially in countries were sexually assaulting a spouse or partner is not considered a crime.

Sexual assault statistics by gender include:

  • 1 out of 9 females and 1 out of 53 males under the age of 18 experience sexual assault or abuse by an adult
  • The vast majority (82%) of sexual assault victims under the age of 18 are female
  • Females aged 16 to 19 are more likely to be victims of sexual assault, rape or attempted rape than members of the general population
  • Of the alleged sexual abuse perpetrators reported to Child Protective Services in 2013, 47,000 sexual abuse perpetrators were men and 5,000 were women
  • It is estimated that 19% of females and 2% of males will experience rape in their lifetime
  • Over a person’s lifetime, it is estimated that 44% of females and 23% of males will experience a form of sexual violence or assault that is different from rape

Sexual Assault in Middle and High School

In regard to sexual assault in schools, children, preteens, and teens may encounter some form of sexual assault. Regardless of age, sexual perpetrators often know their victims well. A 2010 study about the perpetrators of sexual assault shows:

  • 52% of males and 41% of females reported their perpetrator as an acquaintance
  • 51% of females reported their perpetrator as an intimate partner
  • 15% of males and 14% of females reported their perpetrator as a stranger
  • 13% of females reported their perpetrator as a family member
  • 3% of females reported their perpetrator as an authority figure

These statistics reflect that perpetrators are typically people who middle school or high school students know quite well. A perpetrator may be a friend, lover, classmate or even a parent. According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), of all sexual assault victims under the age of 18, about one-third were under 12 and two-thirds were between 12 and 17 years old.

Unfortunately, middle school and high school sexual assault is often underreported by victims. Even if a victim reports their attack to a person of authority (school administrators or counselors), schools often do not report these assaults. Particularly on college campuses, school administrators will not report incidents to avoid tarnishing the school’s reputation as a safe place. According to the American Association of University Women (AAUW):

  • 79% of schools that include grades 7–12 reported zero allegations of sexual harassment or bullying for the 2015–2016 school year
  • 89% of college campuses reported zero incidences of rape for the 2016 year

These statistics show that students who are victims of sexual assault deserve better protection and disclosures on behalf of their schools.

Drug and Alcohol Facilitated Sexual Assault

It is not uncommon for teens to get drunk at a high school party, and drug and alcohol use is quite prevalent among high school students. However, many sexual assaults occur in situations where people are intoxicated and have impaired judgment.

High school sexual assault can involve cases of non-consensual sex, where one party does not willingly agree to participate in sexual activity. Even if a victim is not raped or sexually attacked, the issue boils down to one of consent. For example, aside from alcoholic beverages or drugs like marijuana, teens may encounter date rape drugs that temporarily alter their memory.

Date Rape Drugs

Teen date rape occurs when an individual is given a drug (without their knowledge or consent) that impairs their judgment and memory. Common date rape drugs include:

Often, a perpetrator will slip one of these drugs into their victim’s drink. Victims may be selected randomly or targeted directly, and it can happen to both males and females. In some countries, such as Australia, date rape is considered as a type of “relationship rape.”

It is extremely important to note that date rape is never the victim’s fault, despite cultural differences or assumptions about the victim.

Connection Between Sexual Assault and Future Substance Abuse

There is a strong connection between sexual assault, future substance misuse and the development of mental health conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Victims of sexual assault are more likely to:

  • Develop substance use problems later in life
  • Experience PTSD in adulthood
  • Encounter a major depressive episode in adulthood

People can develop PTSD from childhood sexual, physical or emotional abuse, even years after their initial trauma. PTSD is defined as a period of extreme stress for at least one month after experiencing sexual assault or similar trauma. This disorder manifests differently for each person, but people may exhibit these signs of PTSD after a sexual assault:

  • Having flashbacks of their sexual assault
  • “Dissociating” or feeling detached from their body
  • Developing a substance use disorder
  • Feeling persistent guilt or thinking that they deserved the attack
  • Loss of self-esteem
  • Memory lapses of the event
  • Increasing irritability

Preventing Teen Sexual Assault

Though not every sexual assault or date rape can be prevented, sexual assault education programs are now being taught in high schools. Sexual assault prevention programs attempt to educate all genders about:

  • Strategies to reduce assault risk
  • Socialization of different “gender roles”
  • Sexual assault education
  • The basics of human sexuality
  • Myths associated with rape
  • Deterring rape
  • Rape awareness
  • Self-defense tactics

Sexual assault awareness in high schools is an effective strategy, and it may also be helpful to expand these programs to middle schools. Discussing with elementary students about what is “appropriate versus inappropriate” at home, at school, and in other environments may also prevent some forms of child abuse that students would otherwise not report to school administrators.

Treatment for Teen Substance Abuse and Sexual Assault

There are many teen drug treatment centers for teens who have encountered sexual assault and have developed a substance use disorder. For teens who first developed a substance use disorder and were later sexually assaulted, there are also ways to get help. If a teen receives treatment at a medical facility, they will be treated for their substance use disorder and any co-occurring mental health conditions that may have been caused by sexual abuse. Besides therapy or rehabilitation, ways to help sexual assault victims include:

  • Provide a way for sexual assault victims to be heard
  • Encourage people to attend support groups for sexual assault
  • Donate to causes that support sexual assault victims (such as RAINN or women’s shelters)
  • Encourage an open dialogue between all genders about sexual violence in local communities

Resources for sexual assault victims:

Does your teen struggle with drug misuse? Have you or someone you love been impacted by sexual assault on account of drug misuse? Contact Next Generation Village today to discuss treatment options for teen drug addiction as well as co-occurring mental health conditions.

Medical Disclaimer: Next Generation Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.


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