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Under the influence? Considering the role of alcohol and sexual assault in social contexts

Sexual assault Alcohol Violence Victims of crimes Australia

This paper reviews research around alcohol use in sexual assaults that are perpetrated in circumstances of socialising and sexual interactions.


Alcohol is a common feature in many sexual assaults, particularly those committed in a social context. Although there is extensive research on the link between alcohol and sexual assault, there is a lack of clarity about the exact role that alcohol plays. In the ACSSA research report Insights Into Sexual Assault Perpetration: Giving Voice to Victim/Survivors' Knowledge, alcohol was seen as a tool, commonly used by perpetrators. The report will be referred to throughout this paper as Giving Voice.

The findings from Giving Voice identified a variety of ways in which alcohol was used by perpetrators in social interactions and settings in order to perpetrate sexual assault. These included: taking advantage of the social use of alcohol to enable and facilitate the assaults; as a method of increasing perpetrator confidence; excusing their perpetrating behaviour after the assault; and enabling manipulation of the effects of alcohol for the purposes of reinterpreting the assault or women's memories of it - alcohol has the effect of creating a barrier to the reporting of sexual assault as women often see their own intoxication or drinking behaviour as contributing to the assault.

This Issues paper aims to review research around alcohol use in sexual assaults that are perpetrated in circumstances of socialising and sexual interactions. It will highlight key points from the literature that provide relevant information for prevention. This paper also discusses 14 transcripts from interviews with victims of sexual assault in which alcohol was present. These interviews were originally undertaken as part of the Giving Voice report. The report was originally conceived as a step towards enhancing understanding about sexual assault perpetration. This Issues paper builds on one aspect of the findings from that report - namely that alcohol is often present when sexual assault is perpetrated. The aim of drawing on the Giving Voice transcripts that highlighted the presence of alcohol was to gain some insight into alcohol's role in sexual assault facilitation and seeing whether this insight accords with the wider literature on alcohol.

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