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Is There A Connection Between College Football Games And Risks For Rape?


OK. We have reported a lot on this program about sexual violence on college campuses and there is some new research possibly connecting that violence to college football. We discussed this with NPR's Social Science Correspondent Shankar Vedantam. And, just a warning to listeners, this conversation does come cover some sensitive topics.

Hey Shankar.


GREENE: So tell us about this link with college football.

VEDANTAM: Well, first, David, sexual violence on campus appears to be really widespread. You know, there was a survey of 27 universities by the Association of American Universities last fall that found that more than 1 in 10 respondents reported nonconsensual sexual contact since enrolling at school.

GREENE: And that study made us really realize, I mean, how prevalent...

VEDANTAM: Yeah, nearly 1 in 4 women reported sexual contact in the context of threats of violence, actual violence or incapacitation involving drugs or alcohol. I was speaking with Jason Lindo, he's an economist at Texas A&M University. He recently decided to explore whether there was any relationship between sexual violence and college football games. Along with Peter Siminski and Isaac Swensen, Lindo analyzed FBI data collected over a 21-year period from law-enforcement agencies that serve 96 colleges with a Division I football team. Researchers correlated reports of rape with college football games and they found a sharp increase in rapes reported to police on days when the college football team was playing a game. Here's Lindo.

JASON LINDO: We find that these the football games significantly increase the number of 17-to-24-year-olds reporting rapes to campus and local police departments. We show that home games increased reports by 41 percent and away games increase reports by 15 percent.

GREENE: This is really disturbing and a lot to unpack there. I mean, home games - you could imagine there are more tailgate parties. Is that what we're talking about here, that the partying and drinking around football leads to more reported rapes?

VEDANTAM: We can't say for sure based on this data, David, but there's lots of other research that has linked excessive drinking and partying with the risk of sexual violence. It's also revealing, as you just pointed out, that home games seem to increase these reports more than away games presumably because there's more intense partying and drinking around home games. And, finally, to the extent that these perpetrators of these reported rapes have a profile, Lindo and his colleagues find that many of the reported rapes are being perpetrated by strangers. Again, that doesn't necessarily prove these events are taking place in the context of wild parties and hard drinking, but it's consistent with that theory.

GREENE: Let me just inject a little skepticism. I mean, a lot of college football games are on Saturdays. Saturdays are big party days. I mean, doesn't that add some doubt to whether this is linked to football?

VEDANTAM: I think that is actually a great question. Lindo and his colleagues actually tried a control for this by comparing reports of rape on a days the college team was playing to reports of rape on other Saturdays of the year when the team was not playing. So this analysis is focused on the additional rapes being reported to college police and local law enforcement on days the college team is playing compared to what's reported on a typical Saturday. There's another clue in the data that's revealing, David. When the college football team scores an upset victory that seems to have a big effect on reported rapes as well. Here's Lindo.

LINDO: I think that these upset victories lead to especially intense partying and drinking, and this leads to the additional arrests that we see for these activities and also leads to rape for that very reason.

VEDANTAM: The bottom line, David, is somewhere between 253 and 770 additional rapes per year seem to be occurring at colleges with Division I football teams on days the college team is playing.

GREENE: Hundreds more rapes reported on these game days per year?

VEDANTAM: Exactly, and I think at a minimum what it suggests is that college outreach efforts to limit sexual violence need to focus on days the college football team is playing.

GREENE: All right. That's NPR's Shankar Vedantam, he's NPR's social science correspondent. He's also the host of a new podcast that explores the unseen patterns in human behavior, it's called Hidden Brain.

Shankar, thanks as always.

VEDANTAM: Thanks David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Shankar Vedantam is the host and creator of Hidden Brain. The Hidden Brain podcast receives more than three million downloads per week. The Hidden Brain radio show is distributed by NPR and featured on nearly 400 public radio stations around the United States.