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Relationship Between Sexual Assaults and Alcohol

Oct 31,2022

While all genders, including males, face the threat of sexual assaults, other genders across the spectrum find themselves positioned lower than their male counterparts and may face a higher propensity to sexual assaults. Of all the multifarious reasons for sexual assaults, one is the consumption of alcohol by the perpetrator, the victim, or both. A study by National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism states that approximately twenty-five percent of all American women have been a victim of sexual assaults (including rape), and approximately half of these assaults involved the consumption of alcohol by the perpetrator, victim, or both. 

The relationship between sexual assaults and alcohol consumption is prevalent in most nations and cultures around the world. Most commonly, the reason for alcohol intoxication is used by the perpetrator to absolve themselves of criminality and avoid taking responsibility for the assault. On the other hand, for female victims of sexual assault, the act of alcohol consumption becomes a justification for their traumatizing experience, and society forwards a narrative wherein the intoxicated female victim deserved to be assaulted and was asking for it to happen.

How is Alcohol Consumption Related to Sexual Assaults?

While alcohol is not a direct cause or a root cause for the perpetuation of sexual assaults, its consumption creates physiological, psychological, and environmental conditions that make the exercise of assault easier for the perpetrator and make it difficult for the victims to defend themselves. A study was undertaken by the Maryland Collaborative to Reduce College Drinking and Related Problems stated that the settings of alcohol consumption, like clubs, pubs, parties observed higher occurrences of sexual assaults. The same study explained that perpetrators chose such settings to identify vulnerable victims. For a majority of sexual offenders, alcohol becomes a scapegoat for violent crimes. In such a scenario, alcohol increases the risk factor instead of becoming a direct cause of sexual assaults.

Alcohol and Sexual Assault Perpetrators

It is observed that alcohol increases the chances of intimate partner violence in a relationship that is already dangerous. Intoxication reduces inhibitions and increases sexual arousal and aggression in perpetrators. As mentioned earlier, perpetrators often try to justify their actions owing to their intoxicated state and reduced responsibility. Especially in domestic violence cases, sexual assault follows intoxication as night follows the day. Often, the desire to commit sexual assault becomes the motivation for intoxication. An offender may consume alcohol before perpetrating sexual violence in order to justify their actions.

Moreover, when the perpetrator is an acquaintance, alcohol becomes the perpetrator's reason to justify the violation of consent. The degree of consent is often violated under the pretext of intoxication in college sexual assaults, and the setting is usually a date at the home of the perpetrator or the victim and begins with consensual kissing. The degree of consent is quickly violated and the woman tries to resist an assault by reasoning and physically struggling. While the state of intoxication or lucidity should not matter at all in cases of sexual assaults, it is difficult to ascertain whether the perpetrator was actually intoxicated at the time of the assault or not because sexual offenders are rarely arrested within an hour of committing the crime, the duration during which alcohol level in their body could be ascertained. However, in a patriarchal society, this ambiguity favors the perpetrators whose plea of mercy claiming intoxication is generally accepted, and the degree of their crime lowers.

Alcohol and Sexual Assault Victims

While perpetrators attempt to absolve their crime by claiming intoxication, the victims of sexual abuse are criminalized if they were intoxicated when the assault happened. The integrity of the victim's character is questioned because they consumed alcohol (in public or private), lowering their defenses and therefore justifying the assault, deeming it a logical and deserving consequence of their actions. This perspective can be further supported by attribution theory which refers to the cognitive process of blame or responsibility assignment. According to this theory, there are two types of attributions- dispositional and situational. The dispositional attribution assigns blame or responsibility to a person's stable or enduring traits (like their character) while the situational attribution assigns blame or responsibility to the situation and not the individual's character traits.

The victim of sexual assault involving alcohol is usually dispositionally attributed, and their character and intentions are questioned. The perpetrator is situationally attributed and is considered to be an average individual of good character who fell prey to the intoxication of the situation. This is how the accountability of the assault is transferred from the perpetrator to the victim and how the involvement of alcohol criminalizes the victim in a patriarchal society.

Fewer cases of sexual assault are reported than other crimes. When alcohol is involved in a sexual assault, it becomes difficult for the victim to report the crime as they feel that society will consider them responsible for their state and blame them for being intoxicated or for having chosen to be with the perpetrator at the moment of the assault. In instances where the perpetrator and victim knew each other or were romantically related, it becomes an arduous task for the victim to report because the society ignores the violation of the degree of consent and trust, and blames the victim for having consented to be romantically involved in the first place. It becomes the victim's responsibility to not be assaulted during a date they perceive to be a safe space, rather than the perpetrator being held responsible for violating the trust and consent of the victim by assaulting them under the pretext of a date.

Alcohol can have severe repercussions on the victim regardless of whether or not they were intoxicated at the time of the assault. However, nothing justifies sexual crime.