HSC researcher connects ‘alcopops’ and sexual assault of minors

Matthew RossheimA researcher at The University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth recently discovered a correlation between alcopops and the sexual assault of minors.

The fizzy, fruit-flavored alcoholic drinks, which contain the same amount of alcohol as up to 5.5 standard alcoholic drinks, have come under fire as parent groups, child safety organizations and others have accused alcohol companies of marketing their products to underage drinkers. Alcopop’s popularity among underage drinkers has recently soared.

Dr. Matthew Rossheim, a professor in HSC’s School of Public Health, published a piece in Health Behavior Research called “Alcopops Disproportionately Consumed by Minors in Sexual Assault Cases?” His study showed that “alcopops” and “supersized alcopops” were disproportionately involved in sexual assault cases where the victim was younger than 18 years old.

His study also found that in 95% of these cases involving a minor, the alcohol was provided by the perpetrator, compared with 33% for adult victims. These drinks, with their sugary, fruity flavors, can mask their alcohol content, making would-be victims susceptible to their incapacitating effects.

“I started this project after noticing a troubling pattern in the news media: children being sexually assaulted after consuming supersized alcopops that were given to them by adults,” Rossheim said.

“In response to the tragic death of a 14-year-old girl, the Canadian government took action to limit the alcohol content of these beverages to protect other children,” he said. “Despite numerous deaths and tragedies in the U.S. linked to these products, there is a lack of any meaningful regulations to prevent such harms. By documenting the atrocities associated with these products, I hope that advocates can succeed in getting regulatory changes that safeguard children from further harm, including death and sexual assault.

For his study, Rossheim and his co-authors dug deep into a large collection of legal documents involving sexual assaults of children. This study provides initial evidence that sexual assault perpetrators may intentionally use alcopops and supersized alcopops for the sexual victimization of minors.

“Dr. Rossheim is one of the world’s leading experts on the study of ‘alcopops’ and at the forefront of addressing this critical public health concern,” said Dr. Shafik Dharamsi, dean of HSC’s School of Public Health. “These types of alcoholic drinks pose serious risks to the health of young adults. Dr. Rossheim’s work can help policymakers and practitioners find better solutions to prevent injury and harm.”

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