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:  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 ( is also interesting.

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