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How Does Alcohol Affect Sexual Assault?

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Alcohol is a risk factor for sexual assault, but it is not the cause of sexual assault. In cases of sexual assault, perpetrators are always legally and morally responsible for their behavior. Nevertheless, about half of sexual assaults involve alcohol consumption by the perpetrator, the victim, or both.

Why Does Alcohol Increase the Risk of Sexual Assault?

According to the Maryland Collaborative to Reduce College Drinking and Related Problems, consuming alcohol is associated with sexual arousal, disinhibition, and aggression. In potentially dangerous sexual situations, alcohol can “add fuel to the fire.”

Additionally, heavy drinkers may be more likely to commit sexual assault due to antisocial personality traits, and many perpetrators use alcohol as an excuse for their behavior. Sadly, perpetrators also use settings where alcohol is consumed to seek out vulnerable individuals. Some perpetrators get victims drunk to take advantage of them.

Please note that an intoxicated person is not capable of consent. Sexual assault is never the victim’s fault.

Alcohol and Dates

Many dates occur at bars and parties, and nearly half of sexual assaults occur on dates. Alcohol is the most commonly used date-rape drug, and men who are drinking often misperceive their dates’ friendly behavior as sexual. Further, if men are drinking, they are more likely to behave aggressively and respond to a perceived provocation. An intoxicated man may believe he has been “led on” by a date and is more likely to respond violently.

In, approximately 90% of sexual assaults, the victim knows the perpetrator. Sexual assault is more common among those who know each other casually as acquaintances than those in romantic relationships.

Who Is Responsible?

Despite gender norms, both men and women can perpetrate sexual assault. The perpetrator is always legally and morally responsible for their behavior.

Sometimes, institutions facilitate sexual assault, especially when alcohol is involved. For example, a fraternity, bar, or social host may provide both victims and perpetrators with alcohol or “look the other way” in dangerous sexual situations. In New Hampshire, dram shop laws may place third-party liability on alcohol-serving organizations if people commit crimes after drinking.

Colleges and universities may also face liability if they do not create safe spaces for their students and fail to enforce complaints against student perpetrators.

How to Move Forward

Unfortunately, there is stigma around alcohol-involved sexual victimization. Many victims fear they will not be believed – or that they will be blamed for the assault. To move forward, victims must have access to comprehensive support.

If this support is not available, victims may choose to seek justice through the civil and criminal justice systems. Douglas, Leonard & Garvey, P.C. has extensive experience representing sexual abuse victims against their abusers and the organizations that enable them. Our team has been helping people move forward from sexual assault since 1997. We believe you, and we are ready to listen.

When you are ready, call us at (603) 288-1403 or contact us online for a confidential consultation – we will treat you with dignity and respect every step of the way.