Campus Sexual Assault: How Alcohol Affects the Ability to Consent

How Alcohol Affects Consent

Posted by Shelley Kilpatrick on 31 December 2015 |

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sexual assault alcohol consentSexual violence on campus is a complex problem. There are many different variables. Many of them we’ve covered already such as date rape drugs and the myths surrounding sexual assault. This time we are going to discuss the role alcohol plays in sexual assault.

Sobering Campus Sexual Assault Statistics

A Washington Post poll of 1,053 current and recent college students found that among women who have experienced a sexual assault or unwanted sexual contact, 62 percent had been drinking alcohol prior to the incident.

In addition, Campus Safety Magazine points out:

  • At least 50 percent of college student sexual assaults are associated with alcohol use
  • 69 percent of sexual victimization incidents involve alcohol consumption by the perpetrators
  • 90 percent of acquaintance rapes involve alcohol

Part of the problem is that alcohol affects the ability to give consent. Because if a person has been drinking, they may not be able to give consent.

So how can you tell if someone is sober enough to consent to sexual activity?

Ways to Tell If Someone is Too Drunk to Give Consent

In a special report from the National District Attorney’s Association, “Prosecuting Alcohol-Facilitated Sexual Assault,” the author suggests asking questions to help tell the difference between rape and drunken sex.

And while the report deals with an alleged assault that’s already occurred, these questions—slightly modified—are very helpful to ask yourself to determine whether or not someone is able to give consent after they’ve been drinking.

  • Can the person speak coherently or are they slurring their words?
  • Is the person able to walk without assistance?
  • Did the person vomit?
  • Is the person able to dress/undress themselves?
  • Is the person’s coordination impacted?
  • Can the person use their phone to send a text?
  • Is the person falling asleep?

Even though it’s possible for a person to give consent if they’ve been drinking, it’s best to wait until you’re both sober and can clearly communicate consent.

Online Training for Students on Alcohol, Consent and Sexual Assault

Another part of the problem is that college students are not given consistent information on alcohol use, consent and sexual assault.

In the Washington Post survey 46 percent of students responded it was unclear if sexual activity when both people have not given clear agreement is considered sexual assault.

Additionally, 18 percent agreed with the statement that if a person does not say no it establishes consent for more sexual activity.

This illustrates the point that students need comprehensive training as part of a campus sexual assault prevention strategy. The training should cover in detail the issues they will face and teach them how to:

  • Navigate situations where there is pressure to drink
  • Practice responsible drinking (when they are over 21)
  • Ask for and give consent to sexual activities
  • Use continuous consent
  • Act as allies when they see other students in need

That last point is extremely important. As NotAlone.gov states that bystanders are a key piece of campus sexual violence prevention work.

To learn more about how to use training to help educate students on your campus about drinking, consent and sexual assault, download our student leaders guide.

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