Alcohol and sexual assault

Educating the public on the law of rape

When Liverpool City Council looked to develop a media campaign aimed at raising awareness around alcohol-involved sexual assault, they turned to LJMU researchers to help shape its content. In a departure from the Council’s intended focus, the actual campaign as advised by LJMU, targeted young men as potential perpetrators as opposed to the victims of sexual assault.

Researchers from LJMU’s School of Law and the Public Health Institute collaborated on this interdisciplinary programme of research which explored the experiences of, and perspectives towards, alcohol intoxication and non-consensual sexual activity amongst students. The research also generated original knowledge from legal practitioners regarding the law’s treatment of intoxicated rape complainants.

The findings indicated that whilst a third of the women samples had experienced some form of alcohol involved non-consensual activity (21% male), they experienced more serious levels of assault (involving penetration for example) and women were frequently targeted when they were too drunk to consent to intercourse. Women were more likely to be blamed by lay persons for being assaulted if they were drunk at the time compared to non-drinking females. A drinking double-standard was identified: whilst women were blamed more for their assault as their level of intoxication increased, increased intoxication in men resulted in a reduction of their responsibility for perpetrating a sexual offence. There was a lack of understanding and confusion amongst students regarding the law of rape and the meaning of consent, especially in cases involving intoxication. Barristers highlighted that alcohol consumption disproportionately impacted on the credibility of the victim at trial, rather than the culpability of the defendant.

It was decided by a Liverpool City Council led multistakeholder consultation that the media campaign was to be aimed at men aged between 18-24 years, specifically students as users of the night-time economy. Rape campaign materials frequently and problematically focus on altering the behaviour of young women by educating them on how to avoid being assaulted. The LJMU research changed this approach, developing a campaign addressed primarily to potential perpetrators and aiming to educate the public on the law of rape.

The campaign ran in Liverpool city centre at the start of 2012 (distribution of a range of materials across many night-time venues; web-based resources posted by high profile organisations; advertising on television and radio). Campaign evaluation demonstrated that it had effectively conveyed the message that having sex with someone who is exceptionally intoxicated amounts to rape. Additionally, campaign recipients thought it was positive that the campaign informed the public that the majority of sexual assaults are committed by someone known to the victim and in a domestic setting.

Find out more about the research within the School of Law and the Public Health Institute.

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