Sexual predators use alcohol as a tool
It’s that time again. While others are anticipating the cooler days and nights of Autumn, the beautiful colors of the leaves turning, the return of football, those of us who provide sexual assault services experience the onset of fall with something akin to dread. We know that the first few weeks of the fall semester – all across the country, not just here in Happy Valley – will see an increase in the number of sexual assaults in our community. CCWRC advocates responded to three sexual assaults over the holiday weekend and there were four assaults reported the weekend before. Seven is seven too many. And those are only the ones that were reported.
Inevitably the question comes, especially this time of year, “What about alcohol? What role does it play?” The answer is this, alcohol does play a role in sexual assault – but not the one you might think.
The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape points out that those who commit sexual violence use alcohol and other substances strategically to enhance and exploit vulnerability, to lower their own inhibitions, and to ensure that other people will excuse their actions. Those who commit acts of sexual violence know that alcohol and other drugs cause potential victims to have less control of their body and surroundings, sometimes even to the point of losing consciousness. This is particularly the case with young people who may have little experience with drinking or who are in new or unfamiliar surroundings, like many first year students. Sexual predators know this and use it to encourage and support intoxication in potential victims, and to take advantage of young women or men who have had too much to drink.
Lundy Bancroft, author of Why Does He Do That?, points out that “People’s conduct while intoxicated continues to be governed by their core foundation of beliefs and attitudes, even though there is some loosening of the structure. Alcohol encourages people to let loose what they have simmering below the surface.” Alcohol often allows the person who would commit sexual violence to drop the civilized veneer, lower their own inhibitions and to behave in ways that they know are wrong.
Best of all, those who use alcohol to facilitate sexual violence know that the presence of alcohol will make it more likely that others will blame the victim and excuse the perpetrator. Those who commit sexual violence know that when both people have been drinking, others, sometimes even those in authority, will take allegations of sexual assault less seriously. Sadly, victims understand this as well and it makes it much less likely that someone who has been assaulted and may have been drinking will feel able to come forward and report that assault.
On my most hopeful days, I am grateful that those seven victims of sexual assault had the courage to come forward, to seek help, to tell their stories. I am glad that they believed that the systems in place to help them would do so. And we will continue to work so that their faith in us is not misplaced. Every day, however, I am outraged at the reality of sexual assault in our community. Because I know that while many college students are drinking, some of them are planning not just parties but sexual assaults.