Role of Alcohol and Drugs in Sexual Assault

Alcohol and drugs can be one of the most significant risk factors for sexual violence on college and university campuses. While not a cause, there is a strong relationship between sexual violence and the use of alcohol or drugs. In fact, over half of sexual assaults of postsecondary students involve alcohol or drugs.

The use of alcohol or other drugs to intentionally incapacitate or sedate another person for the purpose of sexual assault is referred to as "drug-facilitated sexual assault".

Alcohol is by far the most prevalent drug involved in drug-facilitated sexual assault. Alcohol is sometimes used in a deliberate strategy to impair the victim's ability to provide consent. A perpetrator may use alcohol (in some cases mixed with other drugs) to intentionally incapacitate a victim. In other instances, a perpetrator might target a woman who is already visibly intoxicated.

A variety of other drugs may also be used to perpetrate sexual assault. Some are obtained by prescription, such as antidepressants and tranquilizers, while others, like motion sickness drugs, are available over-the-counter. Perpetrators may also use illegal drugs including marijuana, crack, cocaine and ecstasy. "Date rape drugs" such as Rohypnol have been found to be used very rarely.

A victim who has been drugged may lose consciousness and suffer memory loss. Survivors are left confused and may not seek help. As a result, the short window to conduct evidence-related drug testing may pass.

When alcohol and drugs are used to facilitate sexual assault, our perceptions about who is responsible can be influenced by myths and misconceptions. Victims are often perceived by others to be at least somewhat responsible for what happened to them. Many victims also internalize rape myths and blame themselves. The actions of an intoxicated perpetrator are often excused.

Raising awareness of the role of alcohol in sexual assault should be a key element of prevention efforts on campus. Education and training should debunk myths and help people recognize situations that could lead to drug- and alcohol-facilitated sexual assaults. Residence staff as well as owners and staff of local bars and restaurants can play important roles in these efforts.

Source: Developing a Response to Sexual Violence: A Resource Guide for Ontario's Colleges and Universities, 2013.