Burnett & Williams

Campus Sexual Assault & Underage Drinking

Campus Sexual Assault & Underage Drinking


Like many residents around the Commonwealth, I am troubled by the firestorm of controversy around the rape accusations at the University of Virginia. Setting aside the reporting problems in the Rolling Stone article that put this issue under the public microscope, the fact remains that sexual assault is an endemic problem on college campuses, and it is clearly tied to alcohol abuse.

NIH’s National Institute for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has been studying the problem of college drinking for decades, and its current research shows that each year nearly 100,000 students are victims of alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape – a simple average of nearly 2,000 per state. An additional 600,000 students are victims of other types of alcohol related violence, and nearly 2,000 die from unintentional injuries. NIAAA’s statistics also show that academic problems and mental health issues are significantly tied to alcohol abuse.

These figures show that the incident at the center of the UVA controversy, no matter how the facts play out, is not an isolated one. It is one expression of a national problem that is endangering too many students, and diminishing the quality of community life on our academic campuses everywhere.

As a father with a daughter currently enrolled at a Virginia university, these facts and the thousands of horror stories they imply touch me deeply. As a lawyer, I see solutions in the application of the law, and I blame college administrators and other community leaders for turning a blind eye to the chronic violations. Underage drinking is illegal. Most college students are underage. If underage drinking were prohibited and punished in a true effort to stop it, the accidents and assaults would be reduced. Perhaps over time the culture on campuses would change in a way that would enhance academic excellence in our state, the primary purpose of most universities.

The key question is why this culture is allowed to persist on our campuses. Why do college deans, police chiefs, and even parents give an implicit nod to campus partying? Are they worried that their university life would be less fun without it, or perhaps that their enrollment would decline? In an era when schools are competing for students on the basis of luxury amenities, it would be economically risky for a school to take a tough stand on enforcement, especially if it were the only one to do so. But what if colleges and universities across the country acted in concert, all getting serious at the same time about alcohol abuse, sexual assault, and accompanying problems?

Burnett & Williams stands with those working to thoughtfully address the issue of sexual assault on college campuses. We stand with the parents who say, “not my daughter” and, “not my son.” We stand with the alums who say, “not my school” and “not my fraternity.” And we stand with the small but growing number of college administrators and community leaders, like those at NCHIP,  who are working diligently to change the culture on college campuses around the country.