Drug and alcohol use have been associated with increased risk for sexual violence, but there is little research on sexual violence within the context of drug use among young adult opioid users. The current mixed-methods study explores young adult opioid users’ sexual experiences in the context of their drug use. Forty-six New York City young adults (ages 18-32) who reported lifetime nonmedical use of prescription opioids (POs) completed in-depth, semistructured interviews, and 164 (ages 18-29) who reported heroin and/or nonmedical PO use in the past 30 days completed structured assessments that inquired about their drug use and sexual behavior and included questions specific to sexual violence. Participants reported frequent incidents of sexual violence experienced both personally and by their opioid using peers. Participants described sexual violence, including sexual assault, as occurring within a context characterized by victimization of users who were unconscious as a result of substance use, implicit and explicit exchanges of sex for drugs and/or money that increased risk for sexual violence, negative sexual perceptions ascribed to drug users, and participants’ own internalized stigma. Recommendations to reduce sexual violence among young adult opioid users include education for users and service providers on the risk of involvement in sexual violence within drug using contexts and efforts to challenge perceptions of acceptability regarding sexual violence.
Sexual violence in the context of drug use among young adult opioid users in New York City
Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 32 (19), 2929-2954. doi: 10.1177/0886260515596334. PMCID: PMC4740284.