Dr. Melissa Lewis sheds light on ‘hooking up’ as significant risk factor in campus sexual assaults

October 9, 2023 • News

By Sally Crocker

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Dr. Melissa Lewis

More than 90% of campus-based sexual assaults involve alcohol consumption by one or both parties, according to recent data. In response to this alarming discovery, Dr. Melissa Lewis of The University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth came together with national colleagues to challenge prevailing myths and seek solutions at a recent webinar, “The Role & Overlap of Alcohol Prevention in Sexual Violence Prevention.”

The webinar was organized by the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators to explore the relationship between alcohol and sexual violence. Participants gained insights on the intersections of sexual violence and alcohol, with a focus on prevention strategies.

Lewis, who serves as associate dean for research and faculty advancement at the HSC School of Public Health, played a crucial role on the panel. Her presentation emphasized the critical need to address vulnerability that arises from the intertwining factors of intoxication, the setting (such as parties or bars) and the occurrence of hookups. Her work underscores the urgency of understanding the complexities of these situations and implementing comprehensive preventative measures to ensure student safety on campuses nationwide.

“Hookups,” commonly defined as one-time sexual encounters between strangers or acquaintances without the expectation of a relationship, have become a focal point in discussions surrounding sexual assault on campuses. The ambiguity around hookups may be responsible for increasing the risk of negative emotional outcomes or of sexual experiences that go beyond one partner’s intentions or level of comfort, Lewis noted.

Lewis emphasized the prevalent belief among students that alcohol acts as a catalyst for such encounters. Often, students consume alcohol with the expectation that it will facilitate a hookup, and a majority of these casual encounters occur where alcohol is consumed.

Research data underscores the seriousness of this issue. People who consume higher amounts of alcohol are three times more likely to engage in a hookup — in fact, two-thirds of such experiences involve drinking. This increased incidence of hookups correlates with higher risks of sexual victimization.

“The data speaks volumes,” Lewis said. “When we look at the prevalence of alcohol in hookup culture and its correlation with sexual victimization, it becomes evident that there’s a pressing need to address this dynamic. The safety of our students hinges on our ability to understand and navigate these intersections.”

The panel highlighted that college campuses would benefit from a combination of bystander approaches and initiatives focused on perpetrators and sexual assault prevention.

The webinar helped to reinforce the collective effort and dedication of organizations and experts like Lewis in combatting myths surrounding alcohol-involved sexual assault and promoting a culture of awareness, prevention and accountability on campuses nationwide.