Springer Nature is making SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 research free. View research | View latest news | Sign up for updates

Preventing College Sexual Victimization by Reducing Hookups: a Randomized Controlled Trial of a Personalized Normative Feedback Intervention

Abstract

Sexual activity, including hooking up, increases college women’s vulnerability to sexual victimization. Reducing hookups may reduce rates of sexual victimization among this vulnerable population. Because college students overestimate how frequently their peers hook up, correcting their misperceptions may lead to more accurate perceived social norms, and consequently, less hookup behavior. The study was designed as a randomized controlled trial of the efficacy of a brief, computer-administered personalized normative feedback (PNF) intervention regarding hookups during the first semester of college. We tested an indirect effects model in which PNF was hypothesized to predict perceiving fewer peer hookups, which were expected to predict fewer actual hookups and consequently, less sexual victimization during the first semester of college. Entering first-year women (N = 760) were randomly assigned to receive web-delivered PNF or no information. At the end of the semester, perceived number of hookups of others, number of hookups during the semester, and sexual victimization experiences were assessed. Women who received the intervention perceived that their peers engaged in significantly fewer hookups than did control women. Consistent with the proposed indirect effects model, intervention had a significant indirect effect on the odds of first-semester victimization via lower perceived descriptive norms, which in turn predicted fewer hookups. The study provides proof of concept for the importance of hookups as a risk factor for sexual victimization and provides novel, preliminary support for intervention to change descriptive norms as a way of reducing hookups and consequently, sexual vulnerability.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2

References

  1. Abbey, A., McAuslan, P., Zawacki, T., Clinton, M., & Buck, P. (2001). Attitudinal, experiential, and situational predictors of sexual assault perpetration. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 16, 784–817. https://doi.org/10.1177/088626001016008004.

  2. Barriger, M., & Vélez-Blasini, C. J. (2013). Descriptive and injunctive social norm overestimation in hooking up and their role as predictors of hook-up activity in a college student sample. Journal of Sex Research, 50, 84–94. https://doi.org/10.1080/00224499.2011.607928.

  3. Borsari, B., & Carey, K. B. (2001). Peer influences on college drinking: A review of the research. Journal of Substance Abuse, 13, 391–424.

  4. Claxton, S. E., DeLuca, H. K., & van Dulmen, M. H. M. (2015). The association between alcohol use and engagement in casual sexual relationships and experiences: A meta-analytic review of non-experimental studies. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 44, 837–856. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-014-0392-1.

  5. Claxton, S. E., DeLuca, H. K., & van Dulmen, M. H. M. (2015). The association between alcohol use and engagement in casual sexual relationships and experiences: A meta-analytic review of non-experimental studies. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 44, 837–856. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-014-0392-1.

  6. Clinton-Sherrod, A. M., Morgan-Lopez, A. A., Brown, J. M., McMillen, B. A., & Cowell, A. (2011). Incapacitated sexual violence involving alcohol among college women: The impact of a brief drinking intervention. Violence Against Women, 17, 135–154.

  7. Coulter, R. W. S., Mair, C., Miller, E., Blosnich, J. R., Matthews, D. D., & McCauley, H. L. (2017). Prevalence of past-year sexual assault victimization among undergraduate students: Exploring differences by and intersections of gender identity, sexual identity, and race/ethnicity. Prevention Science, 18, 726–736. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11121-017-0762-8.

  8. Cranney, S. (2015). The relationship between sexual victimization and year in school in U.S. colleges: Investigating the parameters of the “Red Zone”. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 30, 3133–3145. https://doi.org/10.1177/0886260514554425.

  9. Davis, K. C., Stoner, S. A., Norris, J., George, W. H., & Masters, N. T. (2009). Women’s awareness of and discomfort with sexual assault cues: Effects of alcohol consumption and relationship type. Violence Against Women, 15, 1106–1125.

  10. Dimeff, L. A., Baer, J. S., Kivlahan, D. R., & Marlatt, G. A. (1999). Basics. New York, NY: Guilford.

  11. Farris, C., Treat, T. A., & Viken, R. J. (2010). Alcohol alters men’s perceptual and decisional processing of women's sexual interest. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 119, 427–432.

  12. Fielder, R. L., & Carey, M. P. (2010). Prevalence and characteristics of sexual hookups among first-semester female college students. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 36, 346–359.

  13. Fielder, R. L., Walsh, J. L., Carey, K. B., & Carey, M. P. (2014). Sexual hookups and adverse health outcomes: A longitudinal study of first-year college women. Journal of Sex Research, 51, 131–144. https://doi.org/10.1080/00224499.2013.848255.

  14. Flack, W., Daubman, K. A., Caron, M. L., Asadorian, J. A., D'Aureli, N. R., Gigliotti, S. N., et al. (2007). Risk factors and consequences of unwanted sex among university students: Hooking up, alcohol, and stress response. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 22, 139–157. https://doi.org/10.1177/0886260506295354.

  15. Flack, W. F., Hansen, B. E., Hopper, A. B., Bryant, L. A., Lang, K. W., Massa, A. A., et al. (2016). Some types of hookups may be riskier than others for campus sexual assault. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, 8, 413–420. https://doi.org/10.1037/tra0000090.

  16. Ford, J. V. (2017). Sexual assault on college hookups: The role of alcohol and acquaintances. Sociological Forum, 32, 381–405. https://doi.org/10.1111/socf.12335.

  17. Fromme, K., Corbin, W. R., & Kruse, M. I. (2008). Behavioral risks during the transition from high school to college. Developmental Psychology, 44, 1497–1504.

  18. Gilmore, A. K., Lewis, M. A., & George, W. H. (2015). A randomized controlled trial targeting alcohol use and sexual assault risk among college women at high risk for victimization. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 74, 38–49. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.brat.2015.08.007.

  19. Harrington, N. T., & Leitenberg, H. (1994). The relationship between alcohol consumption and victim behaviors immediately preceding sexual aggression by an acquaintance. Violence and Victims, 9, 315–324.

  20. Hayes, A. F. (2013). Introduction to mediation, moderation, and conditional process analysis: A regression-based approach. New York: The Guilford Press.

  21. Holman, A., & Sillars, A. (2012). Talk about “hooking up”: The influence of college student social networks on nonrelationship sex. Health Communication, 27, 205–216. https://doi.org/10.1080/10410236.2011.575540.

  22. Kelley, E. L., & Gidycz, C. A. (2017). Mediators of the relationship between sexual assault and sexual behaviors in college women. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1177/0886260517718188.

  23. Kypri, K., & Langley, J. D. (2003). Perceived social norms and their relation to university student drinking. Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 64, 829–834.

  24. LaBrie, J. W., Hummer, J. F., Ghaidarov, T. M., Lac, A., & Kenney, S. R. (2014). Hooking up in the college context: The event-level effects of alcohol use and partner familiarity on hookup behaviors and contentment. Journal of Sex Research, 51, 62–73. https://doi.org/10.1080/00224499.2012.714010.

  25. Lambert, T. A., Kahn, A. S., & Apple, K. J. (2003). Pluralistic ignorance and hooking up. Journal of Sex Research, 40, 129–133.

  26. Lee, C. M., Neighbors, C., Lewis, M. A., Kaysen, D., Mittmann, A., Geisner, I. M., et al. (2014). Randomized controlled trial of a Spring Break intervention to reduce high-risk drinking. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 82, 189–201. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0035743.

  27. Lewis, M. A., Lee, C. M., Patrick, M. E., & Fossos, N. (2007a). Gender-specific normative misperceptions of risky sexual behavior and alcohol-related risky sexual behavior. Sex Roles, 57, 81–90. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-007-9218-0.

  28. Lewis, M. A., Neighbors, C., Oster-Aaland, L., Kirkeby, B. S., & Larimer, M. E. (2007b). Indicated prevention for incoming freshmen: Personalized normative feedback and high-risk drinking. Addictive Behaviors, 32, 2495–2508. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.addbeh.2007.06.019.

  29. Lewis, M. A., Atkins, D. C., Blayney, J. A., Dent, D. V., & Kaysen, D. L. (2013). What is hooking up? Examining definitions of hooking up in relation to behavior and normative perceptions. Journal of Sex Research, 50, 757–766. https://doi.org/10.1080/00224499.2012.706333.

  30. Lewis, M. A., Litt, D. M., Cronce, J. M., Blayney, J. A., & Gilmore, A. K. (2014a). Underestimating protection and overestimating risk: Examining descriptive normative perceptions and their association with drinking and sexual behaviors. Journal of Sex Research, 51, 86–96. https://doi.org/10.1080/00224499.2012.710664.

  31. Lewis, M. A., Patrick, M. E., Litt, D. M., Atkins, D. C., Kim, T., Blayney, J. A., et al. (2014b). Randomized controlled trial of a web-delivered personalized normative feedback intervention to reduce alcohol-related risky sexual behavior among college students. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 82, 429–440.

  32. Lewis, M. A., Rhew, I. C., Fairlie, A. M., Swanson, A., Anderson, J., & Kaysen, D. (2018). Evaluating personalized feedback intervention framing with a randomized controlled trial to reduce young adult alcohol-related sexual risk taking. Prevention Science, 20, 310–320. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11121-018-0879-4.

  33. Lovejoy, M. C. (2015). Hooking up as an individualistic practice: A double-edged sword for college women. Sexuality & Culture: An Interdisciplinary Quarterly, 19, 464–492. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12119-015-9270-9.

  34. MacKinnon, D. P., Lockwood, C. M., & Williams, J. (2004). Confidence limits for the indirect effect: Distribution of the product and resampling methods. Multivariate Behavioral Research, 39, 99–128. https://doi.org/10.1207/s15327906mbr3901_4.

  35. Melkonian, A. J., & Ham, L. S. (2018). The effects of alcohol intoxication on college women’s identification of risk for sexual assault: A systematic review. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 32, 162–172.

  36. Messman-Moore, T. L., & McConnell, A. A. (2018). Intervention for sexual revictimization among college women. In L. M. Orchowski & C. A. Gidycz (Eds.), Sexual assault risk reduction and resistance (pp. 309–330). Cambridge, MA: Academic Press.

  37. Miller, D. T., & Prentice, D. A. (2016). Changing norms to change behavior. Annual Review of Psychology, 67, 339–361. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-psych-010814-015013.

  38. Miočević, M., O’Rourke, H. P., MacKinnon, D. P., & Brown, H. C. (2018). Statistical properties of four effect-size measures for mediation models. Behavior Research Methods, 50, 285–301. https://doi.org/10.3758/s13428-017-0870-1.

  39. Muehlenhard, C. L., & Linton, M. A. (1987). Date rape and sexual aggression in dating situations: Incidence and risk factors. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 34, 186–196.

  40. Muehlenhard, C. L., Peterson, Z. D., Humphreys, T. P., & Jozkowski, K. N. (2017). Evaluating the one-in-five statistic: Women’s risk of sexual assault while in college. Journal of Sex Research, 54, 549–576. https://doi.org/10.1080/00224499.2017.1295014.

  41. Muthén, L. K., & Muthén, L. K. (2017). Mplus users’ guide (Eighth ed.). Los Angeles, CA: Muthén & Muthén.

  42. Muthén, B. O., Muthén, L. K., & Asparouhov, T. (2016). Regression and mediation analysis using Mplus. Los Angeles, CA: Muthén & Muthén.

  43. Neighbors, C., Walters, S. T., Lee, C. M., Vader, A. M., Vehige, T., Szigethy, T., et al. (2007). Event-specific prevention: Addressing college student drinking during known windows of risk. Addictive Behaviors, 32, 2667–2680.

  44. Neighbors, C., Lee, C. M., Atkins, D. C., Lewis, M. A., Kaysen, D., Mittmann, A., et al. (2012). A randomized controlled trial of event-specific prevention strategies for reducing problematic drinking associated with 21st birthday celebrations. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 80, 850–862.

  45. Neilson, E. C., Gilmore, A. K., Pinsky, H. T., Shepard, M. E., Lewis, M. A., & George, W. H. (2018). The use of drinking and sexual assault protective behavioral strategies: Associations with sexual victimization and revictimization among college women. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 33, 137–158. https://doi.org/10.1177/0886260515603977.

  46. Norris, A. L., Carey, K. B., & Shepardson, R. L. (2018). Sexual revictimization in college women: Mediational analyses testing hypothesized mechanisms for sexual coercion and sexual assault. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1177/0886260518817778.

  47. Paul, E. L., & Hayes, K. A. (2002). The causalities of “casual” sex: A qualitative exploration of the phenomenology of college students’ hookups. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 19, 639–661.

  48. Paul, E. L., McManus, B., & Hayes, A. (2000). “Hookups”: Characteristics and correlates of college students’ spontaneous and anonymous sexual experiences. Journal of Sex Research, 37, 76–88.

  49. Prestwich, A., Kellar, I., Conner, M., Lawton, R., Gardner, P., & Turgut, L. (2016). Does changing social influence engender changes in alcohol intake? A meta-analysis. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 84, 845–860. https://doi.org/10.1037/ccp0000112.

  50. Read, J. P., Wood, M. D., Davidoff, O. J., McLacken, J., & Campbell, J. F. (2002). Making the transition from high school to college: The role of alcohol-related social influence factors in students’ drinking. Substance Abuse, 23, 53–65.

  51. Reid, A. E., & Carey, K. B. (2015). Interventions to reduce college student drinking: State of the evidence for mechanisms of behavior change. Clinical Psychology Review, 40, 213–224. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cpr.2015.06.006.

  52. Rothman, E., & Silverman, J. (2007). The effect of a college sexual assault prevention program on first-year students’ victimization rates. Journal of American College Health, 55, 283–290.

  53. Sheeran, P., Maki, A., Montanaro, E., Avishai-Yitshak, A., Bryan, A., Klein, W. M. P., et al. (2016). The impact of changing attitudes, norms, and self-efficacy on health-related intentions and behavior: A meta-analysis. Health Psychology, 35, 1178–1188. https://doi.org/10.1037/hea0000387.

  54. Sinozich, S., & Langton, L. (2014). Rape and sexual assault victimization among college-age females, 1995–2013. Washington, DC: US Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics.

  55. Spoth, R., Guyll, M., & Shin, C. (2009). Universal intervention as a protective shield against exposure to substance use: Long-term outcomes and public health significance. American Journal of Public Health, 99, 2026–2033. https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2007.133298.

  56. Sutton, T. E., Simons, L. G., & Tyler, K. A. (2019). Hooking-up and sexual victimization on campus: Examining moderators of risk. Journal of Interpersonal Violence. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1177/0886260519842178.

  57. Tanner-Smith, E. E., & Lipsey, M. W. (2015). Brief alcohol interventions for adolescents and young adults: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, 51, 1–18. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jsat.2014.09.001.

  58. Testa, M., & Livingston, J. A. (2018). Women’s alcohol use and risk for sexual victimization: Implications for prevention. In L. M. Orchowski & C. A. Gidycz (Eds.), Sexual Assault Risk Reduction and Resistance (pp. 135–172). Academic press. https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-805389-8.00007-4

  59. Testa, M., Kearns-Bodkin, J. N., & Livingston, J. A. (2009). Effect of pre-college drinking intentions on women's college drinking as mediated via social influences. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 70, 575–582.

  60. Testa, M., Hoffman, J. H., & Livingston, J. A. (2010). Alcohol and sexual risk behaviors as mediators of the sexual victimization-revictimization relationship. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 78, 249–259.

  61. Testa, M., Parks, K. A., Hoffman, J. H., Crane, C. A., Leonard, K. E., & Shyhalla, K. (2015). Do drinking episodes contribute to sexual aggression in college men? Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 76, 507–515. https://doi.org/10.15288/jsad.2015.76.507.

  62. Testa, M., Livingston, J. A., & Wang, W. (2019a). Dangerous liaisons: The role of hookups and heavy episodic drinking in college sexual victimization. Violence & Victims, 34, 492–507. https://doi.org/10.1891/0886-6708.

  63. Testa, M., Brown, W. C., & Wang, W. (2019b). Do men use more sexually aggressive tactics when intoxicated? A within-person examination of naturally occurring episodes of sex. Psychology of Violence, 9, 546–554. https://doi.org/10.1037/vio0000186.

  64. Tyler, K. A., Schmitz, R. M., & Adams, S. A. (2017). Alcohol expectancy, drinking behavior, and sexual victimization among female and male college students. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 37, 2298–2232.

  65. Yeater, E. A., Lenberg, K. L., Avina, C., Rinehart, J. K., & O’Donohue, W. (2008). When social situations take a turn for the worse: Situational and interpersonal risk factors for sexual aggression. Sex Roles, 59, 151–163.

Download references

Funding

This research was funded by grant R34AA024854 from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and Office of the Director, National Institutes of Health.

Author information

Correspondence to Maria Testa.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures were approved by the Institutional Review Board at the University at Buffalo (FWA 00008824). All procedures performed in this study were in accordance with the ethical standards of the Institutional Review Board and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all participants.

Additional information

Publisher’s Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Electronic supplementary material

ESM 1

(DOCX 25 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Testa, M., Livingston, J.A., Wang, W. et al. Preventing College Sexual Victimization by Reducing Hookups: a Randomized Controlled Trial of a Personalized Normative Feedback Intervention. Prev Sci (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11121-020-01098-3

Download citation

Keywords

  • Sexual victimization
  • Personalized feedback intervention
  • Sexual risk-taking
  • College students
  • Descriptive norms