Alcohol & Sexual Assault

Alcohol and sexual assault often happen together.
According to some research, 30 percent of all sexual assaults and 75 percent of sexual assaults occurring on college campuses, occur when the perpetrator is under the influence of alcohol. In many cases, the victim is also intoxicated. Drinking makes it easy for the perpetrator to ignore sexual boundaries, while the victim’s intoxication makes it more difficult to guard against an attack.

Alcohol use does not cause sexual violence.
Putting alcohol into your system does not cause you to commit a sexual assault anymore than putting gasoline into your car causes you to drive to the airport. Gasoline makes it easier to do what you want to do (e.g., drive a car) while alcohol also makes it easier to do what you want to do (e.g., grope women). If you do not at least think about doing something when sober, you are not likely to do it when drunk.

Alcohol acts as a permission slip.
By reducing inhibitions, alcohol often makes it more likely that someone will choose to sexually assault another person. As one man in a violent offender program noted, “When I first came to your program I told you that I hit my wife because I was drunk; now I realize that I drank so that I could hit her.” He realized that alcohol did not excuse or even explain the abuse. Instead, alcohol was the way that he had tried to avoid responsibility for the abuse.

Sexual assault occurs despite alcohol use, not because of it.
When someone is extremely intoxicated, we call that person “impaired.” “Impaired” means that you have more difficulty performing tasks. Therefore, if you are going to sexually assault someone when drunk, you have to try harder, focus your attention and be more determined than if you were sober. In effect, people who sexually assault when drunk, do so, not because they are intoxicated, but despite their intoxication. They have to overcome the impairment to commit the sexual assault.

Quick Facts About Alcohol Use and Sexual Assault

  • One study found that 70% of women and 80% of men had been drinking when a sexual assault occurred.
  • Men often drink to feel less inhibited, more powerful, aroused and aggressive. Peer pressure also tends to encourage rowdy and aggressive behavior.
  • Alcohol impairs judgment. Men are more likely to assume that a woman who drinks is a willing sex partner; they are more likely to interpret her behavior, dress or body language as evidence she wants to have sex.
  • Alcohol lowers inhibitions – it makes it easier to force sex on an unwilling partner and to ignore “No’s”.
  • Alcohol impairs the victim’s ability to recognize a potentially dangerous situation. When drinking, one may not notice someone’s persistent attempts to get them to an isolated location or to get them to consume more alcohol. Intoxication also makes it much more difficult to successfully resist a sexual assault.
  • Legally, in Indiana an individual cannot consent to sex if they are drunk; having sex without consent is sexual assault.
  • Individuals who are drunk when they are assaulted often feel responsible for the assault. Please know that the victim is never to blame for an assault, the person who committed the assault is fully responsible.

Alcohol and Risk Reduction

  • If you choose to drink, know your limits and stick to them.
  • Avoid parties where “getting wasted” is the only reason for going
  • Go out with trusted friends, and return home with trusted friends. Do not leave friends behind.
  • Adopt a “sober buddy” system – designate one person who will remain sober and watch out for friends.
  • Do not allow friends to wander off with someone they do not know well.
  • If someone has passed out, do not leave them alone.