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Alcohol and rape: The connection

By Keener A. Tippin II


Date rape and acquaintance rape are forms of sexual assault involving coercive sexual activities perpetrated by an acquaintance of the rape survivor. The perpetrator is almost always a man, and though both men and women can be raped, women are most often the targets of this violence.

Date and acquaintance rape can happen to or be perpetrated by anyone. Incidences are very high. According to FBI statistics, date and acquaintance rape comprise from 60 to 85 percent of all reported rapes. However, even these figures are not reliable. Conservative figures estimate only 3.5 to 10 percent of all forms of rape are even reported.

Date and acquaintance rape is quite prevalent on campuses. One in four college women has been raped; that is, has been forced, physically or verbally, actively or implicitly, to engage in sexual activity. A 1985 study revealed that 90 percent of college rape survivors knew their attacker before the incident. Another survey found that one in 15 college men admitted to having forced a woman into sex.

Some experts believe that one explanation for such high statistics is that young people, constrained for most of their lives by their parents and laws, are unprepared to act responsibly in a "free" environment. This freedom can lead to unrestrained drug and alcohol use, which then leads to sexually irresponsible acts, and then to rape.

In many instances of rape, particularly acquaintance rape, alcohol is often involved as alcohol lowers inhibitions and impairs judgment.

* A woman is more likely to place herself in a potentially dangerous situation (e.g., being alone with someone she does not know well) if she has been drinking. In addition, a potential victim would be less likely to recognize "early signs" of trouble and would be less effective in fleeing or resisting should either become necessary.

* Alcohol also lowers inhibitions and reduces one's "normal" checks on behavior. A perpetrator is less likely to notice and to respect subtle or direct messages to stop.

* Drinking interferes with communication between partners. Discussing what you do and don't want is difficult in an impaired state.

* Assailants may consciously choose an impaired victim. It is easier to force sex on an impaired individual. As such, a potential victim may be encouraged to drink excessively or her drinks may be "spiked" in order to sexually exploit her.

* Drinking/drunkenness is often used to justify behavior that would never be acceptable in a sober state. Ironically, a woman's use of alcohol or drugs often implicates her in the eyes of others. She is viewed as responsible for the assault if she was drinking.

According to the Kansas State University Policy Prohibiting Sexual Violence, excessive use of alcohol and other drugs precedes many incidents of sexual violence. Use of these substances may interfere with one's capacity either to consent to or to refuse sexual activity, and taking advantage of that vulnerability is unacceptable. Under no circumstances does the use of alcohol or other drugs diminish personal responsibility for aggressive or other socially unacceptable behavior.


August 2003