There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that sexual assault, or rape, is a very serious crime and the people responsible for these crimes should be punished. That said, there is some gray area to consider, and that is consent and the idea that one can not give consent to sex if one is intoxicated. This idea has always seemed a little strange to me because it is one of the very few instances when being intoxicated is a legitimate excuse for certain behavior. For example, if someone gets into a fight at a bar, being intoxicated is not a legitimate excuse for it. He or she will still be charged with battery whether intoxicated or not. To be clear, according to the website of the Illinois State Police, “…in cases where consent cannot be given because of impaired judgment due to alcohol or drug intoxication, it is RAPE”. This is, in fact, the law, but should it be?
This law is based on the idea that alcohol impairs judgement, but according to David Hanson, that may not actually be true. Alcohol will do what we believe it will do. If we perceive that alcohol will impair our judgement, then it will. According to a study conducted by Young-Hee Cho and Sherry Span, the women who received alcohol or a placebo were equally likely to engage in sexual behavior, unlike the sober women who were, in general, less likely. This seems to show that drinking alcohol with the belief that alcohol increases sexual behavior is actually what causes an increase in sexual behavior, not the actual alcohol.
Another argument is that alcohol causes people to make short-sighted and irrational decisions, but according to research this may not be true either. According to Hanson, this experiment divided college males into three groups: intoxicated, sober, and a control that was given drinks with a little alcohol, but not enough effect them. They were all offered $15 immediately, or $30 at a later time. It was thought that the intoxicated group would not delay gratification and take the $15, but this was not the case. This would seem to point to the idea that people under the influence of alcohol do not experience an increase in impulsivity or a decrease in rationality.
Though there is much evidence that alcohol alone does not necessarily impair judgement, alcohol does have physiological effects on the body such as slowing reaction time, changes in heart rate and blood pressure, and impaired ability to judge distances and time. It is important to keep these points in mind when consuming any amount of alcohol because though it may not affect decision making, it still does affect other things.
Most people would probably agree that being intoxicated and losing control is not and should not be a legal excuse for committing rape, but I would also argue that we should not accept an alleged victim’s excuse that, though he or she agreed at the time, he or she was not able to give consent for sex due to the consumption of alcohol and was, therefore, sexually assaulted. As much research shows, being intoxicated does not necessarily impair judgement or decision-making skills, so people should be held accountable for their decisions even if intoxicated. With that in mind, this law seems like a double standard, and should be changed accordingly.
Young-Hee Cho, (., & Sherry A., S. (2010). The effect of alcohol on sexual risk-taking among young men and women. Addictive Behaviors, 35779-785. doi:10.1016/j.addbeh.2010.03.007