Alcohol and Consent
For many students starting Uni can be a time of increased freedom and new experiences.
For some, including those arriving in Australia for the first time, “hook up culture” and even the use of alcohol may be new. For others, increased access to alcohol and greater social connections may lead to them changing their beliefs about what is acceptable alcohol-related behaviour. Here are some important facts about the role of alcohol in sexual violence:
- Alcohol use does not cause sexual assault, but it can be a major contributing factor. For example, alcohol consumption is associated with aggression, loss of inhibition and impaired judgement.
- This loss of inhibition can facilitate the likelihood of predatory assaults by reducing victims’ ability to detect cues of danger and resist an assault.
- Intoxication may result in perpetrators misinterpreting “vague” or “friendly” cues as sexual invitation. It may also be used to justify their behaviour or diminish their level of responsibility.
- Conversely, people often blame victims of sexual violence when they were known to be under the influence of alcohol (at the time of the incident). This is one of many reasons that victims delay reporting assaults.
- Sexual assaults involving alcohol are more likely to be opportunistic, occurring among individuals who know each other casually rather than among those in romantic, longer-term relationships.
Knowing that alcohol contributes to sexual assault does not diminish a perpetrator's responsibility. People are morally and legally responsible for sexual assaults that they commit, regardless of whether they were intoxicated.
Also, although a victim’s alcohol consumption may have increased their likelihood of experiencing sexual assault, this does not make them responsible for an assault or harassment. “Women...can empower themselves by identifying actions which may put them at risk, without feeling responsible." Sexual assault and alcohol consumption: what do we know about their relationship and what types of research are still needed? - PubMed (nih.gov)
The bottom line is: Consent cannot be ‘freely given’ if someone is too intoxicated.
A person needs to be able to understand what’s happening and be capable of stopping it if they want to.
'If you’re worried that someone is too intoxicated to consent, they probably are… So, it’s always better to err on the side of caution than risk violating another person.' (Alcohol and Drug Foundation)
The well-being and safety of all members of our University community is important.
Ideas and information that can keep everyone safe and help prevent sexual violence:
- MAKE A PLAN: think about what you can do to take responsibility for the safety of yourself and others ahead of events involving alcohol. Discuss strategies with friends (such as having one sober person and looking out for mates, having a meal first and drinking water).
- IN THE SITUATION: be accountable for your behaviour and monitor your intake. If necessary, leave a situation (go home!) when or if you feel unsafe, or notice that your judgement is being impaired, and you are not being yourself. Draw the line and help others to do the same.
- BYSTANDER ACTION: call out any form of alcohol-involved sexual victimisation and recruit friends/ others to do the same or help if needed.
- HELPING VICTIMS: check in on those you think are “not ok” when alcohol is in use. Believe and support those who experience harassment or assault and ensure they get help if needed.
- CHANGE THE CULTURE: identify myths and double standards that exist when we talk about sexual harm or view it in the media, including where alcohol or drugs are involved. Challenge sexist beliefs, such as “women drinking alone or excessively drinking are sexually available”, or “men must always ‘be up for it’” (drinking, picking up and even having sex). Left unchallenged, these stereotypes provide the basis for unsafe environments and even victim blaming.
- LEARN MORE: Follow the links below for further training and information.
University of Adelaide students can register for free bystander training.
Facts and Information about alcohol and consent in the Australian context
- About half the reported cases of interpersonal violence, domestic violence and sexual assault are related to excessive alcohol consumption (see 2016 Personal Safety Survey)
- Victimisation facts: People in their 20s were most likely to experience an incident caused by someone under the influence of illicit drugs. See Alcohol, tobacco & other drugs in Australia, Social impacts - Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (aihw.gov.au)
- Also, every year more than 70,000 Australians are the victims of alcohol-related assaults. See: Alcohol related harm (2016) | RACS (surgeons.org) on victimisation
- For a good summary of data about use of alcohol or drug use in Australia generally, see Factsheet - alcohol (aihw.gov.au) and for young people, specifically Factsheet - Younger people (aihw.gov.au)
- For a good overview of the complexity of these issues, see: Under the influence? (aifs.gov.au)
- For information on what drives gender-based violence, visit Our Watch - preventing violence against women.
- And for more on risky behaviours and criminal activity, see: Alcohol, tobacco & other drugs in Australia, Social impacts - Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (aihw.gov.au)