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Mainstream, VOL LVI No 22 New Delhi May 19, 2018

Alcohol and Substance Abuse have an Important Role in Sexual Violence

Sunday 20 May 2018, by Bharat Dogra


At a time of growing concern about the fast rising sexual crimes in India, it is important to draw attention to a neglected factor, that is, increasing alcohol and substance abuse in various forms, which also plays an important role in the rise of sexual crimes. This is evident from several studies in various parts of the world as well as recent news reports of sexual crimes in India.

The World Report on Violence and Health (WRVH) says that alcohol abuse is also an important factor in sexual violence.

The WRVH says that both from the perspective of the assaulter and the victim, alcohol and drug consumption increases the risk of sexual violence, including rape. In the context of the victim, this report says that consuming alcohol or drugs makes it more difficult for women to protect themselves “by interpreting and effectively acting on warning signs”. In the context of the assaulter, this report says that alcohol has been shown to play a disinhibiting role in certain types of sexual assault.

According to a widely cited paper on ‘alcohol and sexual assaults’ by Antonia Abbey, Tina Zawacki and others of the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (USA), “at least one half of all violent crimes involved alcohol consumption by the perpetrator, the victim or both. Sexual violence fits this pattern. Thus across disparate population studies, researchers consistently have found that approximately one-half of all sexual assaults are committed by men who have been drinking alcohol. Depending on the sample studied and the measure used, the estimates for alcohol use among perpetrators have ranged from 34 to 74 per cent. Similarly, approximately one-third of all sexual assault victims report that they were drinking alcohol at the time of assault with estimates ranging from 30 to 39 per cent. However, these researchers also point out that while a woman’s alcohol consumption may place her at increased risk of sexual assault, she is in no way responsible for the assault. The researchers rightly say that the perpetrators remain legally and morally responsible for their behaviour.”

However, it also needs to be pointed out that while the data about alcohol consumption by perpetrators is relevant to almost all situations, the data about alcohol consumption by victims may not be relevant to those social contexts such as several parts of India where alcohol consumption by women is very low.

In a widely quoted paper Martin and Hummer argued that many fraternities create a social environment in which social coercion is normalised because woman are perceived as commodities available to meet men’s sexual needs. Alcohol is used to encourage reluctant women to have sex. One fraternity man, quoted in this paper, said: “We provide them with ‘hunch punch’ and things go wild. We get them drunk and most of the guys end up with one.” He describes his plan to get one ‘prim and proper sorority girl’ gets drunk by spiking her punch.

According to another paper by Antonia Abbey, “the peer norms for most fraternity parties are to drink heavily to act in an uninhabited manner and to engage in casual sex.”

According to a recent report from the National Task Force on College Drinking (USA), 1400 college students die each year in alcohol-related accidents, 5,000,00 are injured and there are 70,000 victims of alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape.

A study by Tests and Livingston mentioned women’s narrative description of incapacitated rape which indicates that many were unconscious and found out later that they were raped, or else were only dimly aware of what was happening and so were unable to stop the assailant.

Bharat Dogra

C-27 Raksha Kunj, Paschim Vihar, New Delhi-110063

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