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Sep 08, 2014 05:08 AM EDT

Past Sexual Assault Increases Risk of Future Attack for College Women, Study

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Female college students, who have experienced sexual assault in the past, are at a heightened risk of facing it again, according to a University at Buffalo study. The researchers said that college women who were victims of severe sexual victimization are three times more likely than their peers to become victims the following year too.

For the study, the researchers followed nearly 1,000 college women, most aged between 18 and 21 years, over a five-year period to analyse their drinking habits and experiences of severe physical and sexual assault.

Severe physical victimization was characterised as assaults with or without a weapon. Severe sexual victimization includes rape, attempted rape, incapacitated rape and in situations where a victim is intoxicated from drugs or alcohol to provide consent.

"Initially, we were attempting to see if victimization increased drinking, and if drinking then increased future risk," Kathleen A. Parks, senior research scientist and study's principal investigator, said in a statement. "Instead, we found that the biggest predictor of future victimization is not drinking, but past victimization."

However, "We found that severe sexual victimization decreased across the years in college," Parks said.

The researchers said that the college authorities need to identify victims of sexual assault to avert future victimisation of women. At the same time, they need to look out for drinking problems in trauma victims as they tend to engage in heavy drinking in the year following their assaults, perhaps as a coping mechanism.

Parks' previous research showed that freshmen college women are more likely to become victims if they participate in binge drinking.

The finding is published in the Journal Psychology of Addictive Behaviors.

A recent study by the University of Columbia found that repeated sexual assault victims suffer from more psychological problems than previously thought.

Our findings are important because we are able to identify some of the weaknesses and potential fallacies in classifying survivors based on the violence encountered during the assault," said Bryana French, researcher and assistant professor of counseling psychology in the Department of Educational, School and Counseling Psychology, in a press release. "Indirect, repeated or subtle manipulation tactics can lead to a lifetime of psychological consequences."

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