Alcohol and Sexual Assault

I have noticed that the crisis center I work at, again it is on a college campus, tends to get the most reports of sexual assault after a time that is notorious for partying (i.e. first week back from  break, homecoming etc.).  I think this highlights an important issue that is very complex and can be very loaded.  To me, this highlights the correlation between sexual assault and alcohol.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I am NOT saying that alcohol causes sexual assault.  In fact, I think that alcohol is used as an excuse to justify the assault and to blame the victim.  For example, I have great issues with the statement that people (read: girls) will ‘cry rape’ if they wake up after a night of drinking to realize that they have had a sexual encounter that they regret.  To me, this minimizes the issue of sexual assault, particularly when alcohol is involved.  In reality, when considering the number of false rape reports (as well as unfounded reports), it is extremely small compared to reports of sexual assault that are considered to be “real” or founded* (i.e. a police investigation found that there was evidence to support the claims).

However, I don’t necessarily agree with the statement that all sexual activity when someone is intoxicated is rape (that is my re-wording of the statement that you cannot consent to sexual activity while intoxicated).  I think saying that oversimplifies the issue and takes two key factors out, namely, the role alcohol played in the situation , and any existing (or lack of) feelings/desires between the people.  For me personally (and other disagree) I believe it is sexual assault if: alcohol is used as a tool to take advantage of somebody else and/or if the sexual contact would not have taken place under other circumstances.

I think it is sad and unfortunate the number of sexual assaults that take place at this university (and others) that involve alcohol.  I think David Lisak’s research really shines some light on this issue and would really recommend it to anyone who is interested.  Lisak does some very interesting research with fraternities and other groups known to have a reputation for perpetrating sexual assault and looks at the circumstances surrounding the assaults.  He has coined the term the “Undetected Rapist” and pointed out the very purposeful targeting and manipulating of victims and the very intentional use of alcohol in their assaults.  He talks about it in this video:
http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=5592427n.  This video gets at so many other good things (particularly surrounding the police investigation) but I won’t get into that right now…

This video (http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=124272157) is also interesting.

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*DiCanio, M. (1993). The encyclopedia of violence: origins, attitudes, consequences. New York: Facts on File.

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About givethemstrength

This is my journey as a domestic and sexual violence advocate on a college campus. I will be talking about my daily struggles and accomplishments, but will not be giving any specifics or identifying information.

2 responses to “Alcohol and Sexual Assault

  1. maddrunkgenius

    “I believe it is sexual assault if: alcohol is used as a tool to take advantage of somebody else and/or if the sexual contact would not have taken place under other circumstances.”

    Alcohol is the most common (and welcomed) date rape drug in America.

    • Thanks for the read!

      Yes, alcohol is the most commonly used date rape drug, and it is shocking how many people don’t know that. When I was in college I worked with a professor researching stalking, sexual and relationship violence on our campus. One of the things we did was to send out a Needs Assessment every November to get a picture of how often these incidents were taking place, the circumstances surrounding them, how individuals responded and what we could do better to serve them. One of the questions in this research was “What is the most common date rape drug?” and, if I remember correctly, most students answered “Roofies” or “GHB”. I think that this was the case because it is what everyone is warned about and is seen in the media, in shows like Law and Order: Special Victims Unit. To me, this just illustrates the point that we really need to step up our game and better educate people of all ages about the facts, complexities and challenges surrounding sexual assault and domestic violence. That is a huge reason why I got involved in the movement — to try and prevent further assaults — and particularly why I came to work on a college campus. I think that if we were better at educating people about these things that it would change the response to assaults where alcohol was involved, and could maybe prevent some assaults from taking place.

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