Study: Game Days Linked to Uptick in Assault

Andy Berg Headshot

College campuses across the country have a big problem with sexual assault and it might stem in part from the partying associated with game days.

A study published in the American Economic Journal: Applied Economics looked at the degree to which events that intensify partying increase sexual assault on college campuses and the surrounding areas. To that end, the study based its estimates on panel data from campus and local law enforcement agencies.

The findings could be cause for alarm.

“We find significant and robust evidence that football game days increase reports of rape victimization among 17–24-year-old women by 28 percent,” the report stated. “Home games increase reports by 41 percent on the day of the game and away games increase reports by 15 percent.”

The study concluded that sexual assaults are particularly prevalent before, during, and after marquee Division-1 games. The authors estimated that Division-1A football games account for 5 percent of fall semester (September through December) reports of rape involving 17–24-year-old victims to law enforcement agencies, implying that these games cause 724 additional rapes per year across the 128 schools participating in Division-1A.

Aside from the obvious suffering of victims, the study also looked at the economic toll of sexual assault. “Based on an estimated social cost of $267,000 per rape (McCollister, French, and Fang 2010), this implies an annual social cost of rapes caused by Division-1A games of $193 million,” the report concluded. “The estimated effects for schools participating in Division-1AA are smaller, suggesting 108 additional rapes per year across 125 schools.”

The authors admitted that they “cannot say with certainty that the estimated effects on reports of rape are driven by the increase in partying associated with football games.” However, the authors believe the study contributes to policy discussions by providing evidence that spikes in the degree of partying at a university increase the incidence of rape, which suggests that efforts to avoid such spikes (or to avoid such large spikes) could serve to reduce the incidence of rape.

The report offers a broad perspective on the overall costs associated with participation in a Division-1 football game. “While there are likely to be benefits to having a university’s football team participate in the most competitive division and otherwise playing relatively prominent games, our results indicate that such games have especially large costs in terms of sexual violence victimization,” the study concludes.

The authors contend it will be important for future research to consider the degree to which it is possible to reduce or eliminate the costs associated with sexual assault "by making football games less prominent, through game day-specific policies (such as those relating to the tailgating and alcohol sales inside stadiums), or through broader university policies and initiatives (such as those relating to alcohol and sexual assault).”

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