Monday, December 10, 2007

Alcohol--The Date Rape Drug of Choice

A very interesting piece on alcohol culpability in rapes and other sexual crimes, far more than other drugs. Especially interesting because it doesn't back off calling out females for overindulging in alcohol as part of the problem (not "blaming" them, just noting that, if they don't get drunk, they don't make themselves prey for guys who believe that getting drunk means consent). Here is one section, but the whole thing is longer and worth your time.

Administering a self-report questionnaire to a random sample of national college students, Sarah Ullman and her research team explored the complex interaction between victims’ general alcohol habits and the characteristics of assault. Half of the 3,187 women polled experienced some form of sexual victimization. Of those victims, 42 per cent were using alcohol prior to the assault. Connecting both victim and offender alcohol use to sex abuse patterns, Ullman made the surprising finding that “victim drinking was related to less offender aggression, possibly because force was not needed to complete rape of a victim.” So, it is practical for rapists to rape women under the influence because alcohol’s acceptable incapacitating effects are similar to those of far less ubiquitous rape drugs.

While Ullman’s work is the most comprehensive in terms of variables tested and research methodology employed, rape researchers linked sexual victimization and alcohol on college campuses prior to her studies. Other researchers analyzed both victimized and non-victimized women in order to test their hypotheses about victims’ attitudes toward sex, alcohol, and sexual experience. Using Koss’ reliable Sexual Experience Survey, William Corbin confirmed “alcohol consumption [as] a general risk factor for sexual victimization” and similarly affirmed what psychologists have known for decades: in the wake of trauma, victims frequently rely on alcohol and other substances to numb intrusive trauma response phenomena. Corbin is joined in his findings by other researchers, like Bonnie Fisher, who identified victim pre-assault alcohol use as a defining contextual characteristic, both for rape and the failure by the victim to report it. If, indeed, women are more likely to be victimized when consuming alcohol and less likely to report these attacks, then there likely exists a large class of victims ignored by the criminal justice and our social safety net. And the mystery of spotty reporting patterns is more comprehensible.
Concerned with the convergence of rape myths, fraternity membership, and alcohol use, Martin Schwartz tested claims of past studies indicating that “fraternity men are said to learn that forced sex with a drunken woman is not wrong,” despite its illegality in every state. From using alcohol to incapacitate and avoid forcible rape, to employing it as a “tool... to ‘work out a yes’ of unwilling women,” attitudes and behaviors in the fraternity context seem to exemplify the dangerousness of victim pre-assault alcohol use.


What if you’re not drinking at the frat house? Contrary to established research, Schwartz found that fraternity men do not subscribe disproportionately to rape myths and do not drink more frequently than other men in the university population. In this way, Schwartz’s findings substantiate alcohol use, and its interaction with “peer culture,” as instrumental in sexual assaults. But his key finding “that other groups on campus may be just as likely as fraternities to provide the extensive male peer support for the sexual objectification of women, and the access to alcohol, that encourages some men to engage in victimizing behaviors” won’t surprise many women. We experience firsthand the extent to which sexism and violence are not relegated to their bastions.

What of the “binge drinking” trend? Testing their theory that “drinkers are more likely to be victimized because of their association with motivated offenders,” and that “their routine activities and differential associations put them at greater risk of victimization regardless of whether they are drinking,” Felson and Burchfield explored National Violence Against Women Survey data from 1995 and 1996. The researchers did not relegate their work to sexual victimization, instead broadly investigating victimization of both sexes and testing a number of variables and crimes.

They concluded that “victims of sexual assaults are more likely to be drinking than victims of physical assault.” More generally, however, Felson and Burchfield disproved the “routine activities” hypothesis they put forth, showing that “frequent and heavy drinkers are at a much greater risk of assault when they are drinking, but that drinking is unrelated to the risk of victimization while sober.” Helping to contextualize situations rather than patterns, this powerful finding nullifies the impulse to blame women’s “lifestyles” when trying to understand risk factors for rape.Journalists offer anecdotal evidence to bolster the argument that pre-assault alcohol use by rape victims is as common as rape itself. Responding to concerns about the recent liberalization of pub hours two years ago, the British media focused heavily on the correlation between alcohol use and sexual victimization. Citing one study conducted by the Forensic Science Service in London of 1,014 alleged rape victims, where “significant levels of alcohol were found” in 46 per cent of all rape cases, journalists report concerns of judges who “[warn] that binge drinking will lead to more rapes...[because] pubs and bars [are allowed] to open round the clock.” Estimating that “47,000 rapes occur each year,” and citing a second study stating that neither Rohypnol nor GHB was ever detected in victims’ systems but that “in 50 per cent of all reported rapes the victim was seriously drunk,” some journalists and criminologists are declaring a rape epidemic in the UK, calling “alcohol the most common factor in drug-assisted rape.” Similar figures were released by “the drink industry’s own watchdog, the Portman Group,” stating that “one in three drunken girls is the victim of a sex attack.” To illustrate the statistics, the Daily Mail published a victim’s account: “through a haze of alcohol, almost as if I was looking down at myself from a great distance, I realized I had been stripped of my clothes and two men were raping me as a third held my hands tightly above my head.” Both the studies, and anecdotal evidence from UK victims dramatize the statistics U.S. researchers are systematically uncovering on college campuses.