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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Sexual assault while too intoxicated to resist: a general population study of Norwegian teenage girls

Hilde Pape

Author Affiliations

Norwegian Institute for Alcohol and Drug Research (SIRUS), PB 565 Sentrum, 0105 Oslo, Norway

BMC Public Health 2014, 14:406  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-14-406

Published: 28 April 2014

Abstract

Background

Underage drinking is widespread, but studies on alcohol-related sexual victimization among teenage girls are almost non-existent. Research on individual correlates and risk factors of sexual victimization more generally is also meager. This study focuses on sexual assault while incapacitated due to drunkenness among 15–18 year-old girls and examines how age, drinking behavior, impulsivity and involvement in norm-violating activities are associated with such victimization experiences.

Methods

Data stemmed from a school survey (response rate: 85%) in 16 Norwegian municipalities. Almost all analyses were restricted to girls who had been intoxicated in the past year (n = 2701). In addition to bivariate associations, adjusted odds ratios and relative risks of incapacitated sexual assault (ISA) were estimated. Further, population-attributable fractions were calculated to explore how the prevalence of ISA victimization was likely to be affected if effective preventive measures were targeted solely at high-risk groups.

Results

The majority of the girls (71%) had been intoxicated in the past year, of which 7% had experienced ISA victimization in the same period. The proportion of victims decreased by age within the group that had been intoxicated, reflecting that the youngest girls were more likely to get severely drunk. Impulsivity and involvement in norm-violating behaviors were identified as potential risk factors, but the population-attributable fractions indicated that the groups with the highest risk of ISA victimization accounted for only a minority of all the cases of such victimization.

Conclusion

Sexual assault against teenage girls who are too drunk to resist seems to be prevalent in Norway – notably among the youngest girls who engage in heavy episodic drinking. This study also suggests that one should reconsider the notion that no individual attributes are related to females’ sexual assault victimization. It also indicates that a high risk approach to prevention, targeting groups with a high level of impulsivity or behavioral problems, may have limited effect on the prevalence of ISA victimization. Thus, from a public health perspective, it may be advisable to give priority to universal preventive measures to curb young girls’ risk of being sexually assaulted in a state of alcohol-induced incapacitation.

Keywords:
Sexual assault victimization; Alcohol; Incapacitation; Impulsivity; Behavioral problems; Teenage girls; Prevention