Researchers at Georgia State’s School of Public Health have been awarded a $3.3 million grant from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism to study a behavioral intervention targeting binge drinking and sexual assault among college students that is tailored by gender and sexual orientation.

Federal guidelines recommend that colleges implement universal sexual assault prevention programs that incorporate bystander intervention strategies. However, universal programs do not provide tailored content based on gender or sexual orientation.

At the same time, drinking norms and motives differ based on gender and sexual orientation, and effective interventions for binge drinking require personalized feedback.

The web-based program, known as Positive Change (+Change), was developed by the research team and is the only intervention that concurrently targets both binge drinking and sexual assault. The study will be the first large-scale trial of an integrated binge drinking prevention and sexual assault prevention program targeting victimization, perpetration and bystander intervention.

“Positive Change addresses a large gap in the sexual assault prevention field by tailoring intervention content based on gender and sexual orientation,” assistant professor in the School of Public Health and the project’s lead investigator Amanda Gilmore said. “This allows for the unique needs of cisgender heterosexual men, cisgender heterosexual women and LGBTQ students to be addressed all within one evidence-based program,”

It will also be the first rigorous research examining sexual assault prevention among LGBTQ students. The research is being conducted at the National Center for Sexual Violence Prevention, which was established at Georgia State in September 2021 with funding from the U.S. Department of Defense’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office.

Around 20% of women experience a sexual assault during college, and LGBTQ students have some of the highest rate of victimization. Additionally, around 40% of college students engage in binge drinking and students who do so are at the highest risk of perpetrating sexual assault, being the victim of sexual assault, or witnessing a potential sexual assault.

“Given that LGBTQ students experience unique stressors, engage in alcohol use at higher rates and are targeted for sexual violence more than their cisgender heterosexual peers, it is essential to provide LGBTQ students with tailored prevention,” Gilmore said.

In a pilot study, the program demonstrated promising preliminary efficacy. Using the funding, the researchers will recruit a diverse set of 3,300 college students and assess how +Change impacts alcohol use, sexual assault perpetration and victimization and bystander intervention over the course of a year.

The research team includes Ruschelle Leone, research assistant professor in the School of Public Health, Dennis Reidy, assistant professor in the School of Public Health, and Katherine Masyn, professor in the School of Public Health, as well as collaborators at Stanford University, Arizona State University and Rhode Island Hospital.

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