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The Relationship Between Alcohol and Sexual Misconduct

The following is adapted from Columbia University

Risk Reduction and Alcohol Abuse
Research shows that the use of alcohol is associated with 50-72% of all campus sexual assaults (e.g., Abbey 2002, Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Study, 2001). While it is indeed possible to have consensual sex while under the influence of alcohol, it is undeniable that intoxication impairs judgment, and that each individual responds to the effects of alcohol in different ways. For this reason, an intoxicated person may not actually be able to consent to sexual activity, and a high potential for misinterpreting signals exists when either party is intoxicated. When using alcohol, it is important to learn your personal limits, as losing control of your own decision-making abilities puts you at higher risk of becoming a victim or perpetrator of sexual assault. Being intoxicated does not release any initiator of sexual activity from her/his responsibility for obtaining consent. 

What can individuals and the community do to prevent sexual assault when alcohol use is involved? 

1) Assess the risk factors involved in social or intimate situations where alcohol is being consumed.

a. Warning signals of controlling or possible abusive behavior:

      • A person engineers a situation in which a woman or man is isolated from others
      • You are in a social setting in which there is heavy drinking and bystanders are enabling and encouraging risky behavior
      • A person is intoxicated and lacks the ability to make sound judgments and/or is demonstrating or indicates support of behavior that is aggressive or violent

b. Warning signals that a person may not be capable of consenting to sexual activity:

      • A person demonstrates an inability to make sound judgments
      • A person’s speech is slurred
      • A person seems “out of it,” stumbling, etc.

2)  Here are some things you can do to reduce your risk of becoming a perpetrator of sexual assault

    • Be aware of your own assumptions and stereotypes regarding sex and alcohol
    • Ask yourself what your expectations are regarding sex in a specific social/intimate setting
    • Be aware of how your expectations regarding sex and the use of alcohol might be affecting your interpretation of cues and signals being given by another person
    • Respect the limits of others when it comes to alcohol consumption and sexual activity
    • Be aware of how alcohol is affecting your judgments and/or behaviors
    • If alcohol is affecting you negatively, stop drinking and/or drink water or eat food to minimize the alcohol’s effects
    • Understand that intoxication is a stop sign for sex; stop and ask the other person what s/he wants
    • Ask yourself if the other person is capable of consent given her/his level of intoxication

What can we do as a community?

    • Be aware of the assumptions and stereotypes surrounding alcohol and sex, and combat them
    • Remember that it is important to know your limits and to take care of yourself when consuming alcohol
    • Remember that it is important for persons to be respectful of each other’s bodies, wishes, and desires
    • As a friend, acquaintance, or community member you can reduce risk by not engaging in bystander or enabling behaviors that encourage others to take unsafe risks or overlook a friend’s risk-taking behavior
    • Set up “buddy systems” for friends and acquaintances when going out to social events and keep tabs on each other to ensure each other’s safety