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Young women who start binge drinking in college may be at relatively high risk of sexual assault, a new study suggests.

The study, by researchers at the University of Buffalo in New York, followed 437 young women from the time they graduated high school through their freshman year of college. Of the women who had not been heavy drinkers in high school, or who had avoided alcohol altogether, almost half said they engaged in binge drinking at least once by the end of their first semester of college. Young women who were already binge drinking in high school tended to continue once they were in college, according to Medical News Today.

Binge drinking was associated with young women’s risk of sexual victimization, regardless of whether they had started drinking in high school or college, the study found. Of the young women whose biggest binge involved four to six drinks, one-fourth said they had been sexually victimized in the fall semester. The incidents ranged from unwanted sexual contact to rape. The more they drank, the greater the chance of sexual assault. Among women who had ever consumed 10 or more drinks in one sitting since they started college, 59 percent reported being sexually victimized by the end of their first semester.

“This suggests that drinking-prevention efforts should begin before college,” lead researcher Maria Testa said in a news release. She advised parents to talk with their children about drinking before they go to college, and continue the conversation once they are in college.

The findings will be published in the January issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.

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