Sunday, March 13, 2011

Too boozed up to say no...or yes.

A few years ago there was a minor panic in the UK over drink-spiking and its role in "date rape". Numerous reports recounted how rapists were slipping Rohypnol ("Roofies") or Gammahydroxybutyrate (GHB) into women's drinks then taking advantage of them when they became disorientated from the effects of the drugs.

Undoubtedly, this did and still does happen. But a study commissioned by the Association of Chief Police Officers reported in 2006 that only one in 12 of suspected "drug-assisted rapes" actually involved so-called "date rape drugs". In fact, the main culprit rendering women incapable and vulnerable to attack was alcohol.

Many press reports responded to this study by choosing the angle that date rapes were therefore mainly down to the victim's regrettable binge-drinking. Take this quote from The Daily Mail: "rather than furtively spiking drinks in bars, predatory sex attackers often committed 'opportunistic' assaults after victims had willingly drunk themselves into a state of helplessness" (my italics).

Are we seeing a pattern here? Once again, responsibility for the rape is shifted to the victim. And sadly, juries have often been shown to be unwilling to convict those accused of rape if the victim was drunk at the time of the attack.

And not just juries. Take the notorious 2005 court case of Ryairi Dougal, a security guard at Aberystwyth University who had sex with a student while she lay in a drunken stupor outside the door to her room. Judge Roderick Evans ruled the jury should acquit Dougal when, under cross examination, the student admitted she was too inebriated to recall whether she gave her consent to sex or not. "Drunken consent to sex is still consent," said Judge Evans.

Actually nowadays, it isn't. Under UK law, someone who is rendered helpless by alcohol or any other intoxicant is judged to be legally incapable of giving consent to sex. Unfortunately, the problem is measuring how drunk is too drunk to give consent and here is a classic loophole through which would-be rapists can secure an acquittal in court.

There are many decent men out there. And decent men will not deliberately ply a woman with drink to render her acquiescent so he can jump on her while she is in a state of severe drunkenness. Even if a woman has been flirting with him. A decent man, I believe, will STOP if it becomes clear the woman is too inebriated to be aware of what's going on.

And if you are a woman, beware the man who buys you a drink. Then another. And another. And another...

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