College Party Culture and Sexual Assault

Swensen, Isaac; Lindo, Jason; and Peter Siminski (2018). American Economic Journal: Applied Economics


Sexual assaults on college and university campuses have recently begun to receive increased attention. Links between campus party culture and sexual assault have often been suggested. This research paper finds that daily reports of rape with college-aged victims increase by an estimated 28 percent on Division 1 football game days. This equates to approximately 724 additional rapes per year.

Partying may increase the incidence of rape among college students for several reasons. The most obvious of these is alcohol consumption, which, in many individuals, increases aggression and decreases cognitive function. In addition, potential perpetrators may believe the probability of being punished will be lower if they or their victims have been drinking. Another possibility is that partying may increase the incidence of rape simply by increasing social contact. While 77 percent of students agree that reducing drinking would be effective in reducing sexual assault on their campus, researchers have yet to identify a causal relationship between partying (or drinking) and the incidence of sexual assault.

By comparing the incidence of reported rape among college-aged students on Division 1 football game days with the incidence of rape on non-game days, it is possible to examine the relationship between partying and sexual assault. The effects of football game days on rape incidence are particularly large for colleges and universities with reputations as “party schools.” In addition, “upset wins” are also associated with an increase in both rape and alcohol-related crimes on the day of the game and the day after. While it is difficult to say with absolute certainty that partying increases rape incidence, the results of this research indicate that Division 1 football games increase reports of rape involving college-aged students, and support the idea that partying is the likely causal pathway for this increase in sexual violence.

Universities should take these costs into account when considering the merits of continuing to invest in Division 1 sports programs. Division 1 football is a multi-billion dollar industry that is closely tied to the higher education system in the United States, and universities are making substantial investments in this industry. However, based on an estimated societal cost of $267,000 per rape (McCollister, French, and Fang, 2010), the social cost of rapes induced by Division 1A football games is $193 million per year. This is only one of several costs associate with college football that researchers have begun to investigate, including long-term health of players and impaired academic performance.

Policies relating to partying and drinking may help reduce the incidence of rape. Some universities have already implemented such policies. In January of 2015, Brown University banned alcohol at fraternity parties and all other events in campus residential areas. Dartmouth College banned hard liquor on campus. Both universities cited the relationship between high-risk drinking or drink spiking and sexual assault. It will be important to examine the effectiveness of these policies on decreasing the incidence of rape.


McCollister, Kathryn E., Michael T. French, and Hai Fang. 2010. “The cost of crime to society: New crime-specific estimates for policy and program evaluation.” Drug and Alcohol Dependence 108(1–2): 98–109.