The Connections between Alcohol, Sexual Assault, and Consent

CW: sexual assault, victim blaming

Why is it important to discuss alcohol consumption and consent?

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, “97,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 report experiencing alcohol related sexual assault or date rape.” It is important to acknowledge this staggering statistic to demonstrate how normalized alcohol consumption can be within the context of sexual violence. Oftentimes these types of disclosures are met with victim blaming sentiments, such as “they were too drunk, what did they expect to happen?”

 It is never someone’s fault if they are sexual assaulted while intoxicated. Alcohol does not cause sexual assault, but is often used a tool, or even weapon, to lower someone’s inhibition or impact their ability to consent. In the context of sexual assault, alcohol may make it easier for someone to cause harm or can even prevent someone from remembering that the assault occurred.

What is consent?

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Consent is the permission, allowance, or agreement to do something. Consent must be freely given, without coercion or force, and on-going. According to NJ law, someone who is physically or mentally impaired may not be able to give consent to sexual activity. Physical or mental impairment may include: visual,  speech or hearing impairment, cognitive impairment; being unconscious or asleep; or being under the influence of alcohol or other substance(s) to the point of being unable to make a decision. Check out this video for a metaphor on how consent is as simple as tea!


What can you do?

If you are unsure if you or your partner can consent, it is better to err on the side of caution and ensure that you both are sober before continuing. You can continuously check in with your partner and this can help determine how intoxicated they are, how they feel, and what they want.

If you see someone who you believe is too intoxicated to give consent, you have options to intervene. You can:

  • Direct- Speak to this person directly and check in to see if they are okay or need anything.
  • Distract – Ask if they want to get some food or go outside for some air.
  • Delegate- You can ask a friend for help in the situation that maybe knows this person better.

If someone discloses to you that they were harmed while intoxicated or under the influence, you can:

  • Believe and listen to them
  • Reassure them that it is not their fault
  • Ask how you can be supportive
  • Provide them RAINN’s National Hotline (1-800-656-4673) in case they need to talk to someone

Drinking can impact your ability to communicate effectively but gaining clear, effective, and enthusiastic consent before engaging in any sexual activity is essential to make sure everyone is safe and having a good time.

If you or someone you know is a victim of sexual assault or rape, contact Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) for online help and local resources.