The social ills associated with campus drinking have escalated in recent years, contributing to addiction, disease, accidents, crime and even death. In another devastating byproduct, an estimated 700,000 college students are assaulted every year by another student who has been drinking.

Antonia Abbey, a psychologist at Wayne State University, revealed that one study of college date rapists found that 62 percent felt they had committed rape because of their alcohol consumption. She said they "believed that their intoxicated condition caused them to initially misperceive their partner's degree of sexual interest and later allowed them to feel comfortable using force when the women's lack of consent finally became clear to them." Furthermore, the rapists "did not see themselves as 'real' criminals because real criminals used weapons to assault strangers."

Abbey feels that colleges can help crack down on sexual assault by increasing the "risks" associated in raping other people.

"If the costs of sexual assault are obvious, undesirable and immediate, then intoxication-driven sexual assaults are less likely to occur because the potential perpetrator cannot forget about the likely, undesirable consequences. This suggests that colleges need strong, consistent, well-publicized policies that no one can ignore," Abbey said.

Trinity College, an independent, nonsectarian liberal arts college located in Hartford, Conn., has taken a proactive approach to help decrease intoxication incidents and sexual assaults. Jessica Fortin, a senior biology major, helped establish Nightwatch, a peer-led bystander intervention program which was modeled after a similar program at Dartmouth.

Students in the program are trained in ways to prevent sexual assault and toxic drinking and are paid to attend campus events and walk around, handing out bagels and water to students who need it. Fortin said that sometimes all students need is a friend to say, "Hey, slow down. How about we get you some water?"

Nightwatch staff members not only help students who may have had too much to drink, but also take students back to their rooms and give them the option to avoid leaving with someone they may not want to. The Nightwatch program is an innovative way to help prevent sexual assault.

One recent victim of alcohol-assisted rape reported being overwhelmed with "shame and guilt" following the assault, and only began to come to terms with the crime when "I realized it wasn't my fault." She described that realization felt like climbing out of a "deep, dark hole."

Over the past decades, women have made tremendous strides in higher education, evident by the fact that they now comprise 57 percent of undergraduate students. It's commendable that student leaders like Fortin are stepping up to help make their campuses safer. The college experience should be a positive one, not one psychologically scarred by a devastating event darkly described as a "deep, dark hole."

By Jim Zbick

editor@tnonline.com