Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center

Alcohol is the substance used most frequently used to facilitate sexual assault.(Campus Sexual Assault Study, National Institute of Justice, 2007)

Approximately 50% of reported cases of sexual assault involve alcohol consumption by the survivor, the perpetrator, or both. (Abbey, Zawacki, et al., 2001)

  • Alcohol use may raise certain expectations about gender under the influence of alcohol.  Men/masculine individuals may feel as though they are expected to be sexually/physically aggressive, and may also ascribe to discourse about the sexual availability of women/feminine individuals who drink.
  • Intoxication may make someone physically and/or mentally less able to resist an assault. It is important to remember that an inability or unwillingness to resist does NOT make an assault the survivor’s fault.
  • Alcohol is often used by perpetrators as an excuse for their actions, and as an attempt to shift responsibility for the assault away from themselves and onto the survivor.

It is important to remember that, while alcohol use may be correlated to sexual assault, this does not mean that alcohol use in any way causes sexual assault. Instead, alcohol is often used as a tool to target victims, and then used by perpetrators as an excuse for their actions. Our society tends to adhere to a sexist double standard: someone who has been drinking and commits a sexual assault is less responsible for their actions, while someone who has been drinking and experiences a sexual assault is held more responsible. The reality, however, is that whether or not a perpetrator had been drinking prior to the assault, the severity of their actions remains the same, no blame for the assault should be put on the survivor, regardless of whether or not they were drinking prior to the assault. 

Under the Michigan Criminal Sexual Conduct Laws, perpetrators of sexual assault who have been drinking are not alleviated of any responsibility.  The Michigan Criminal Sexual Conduct Laws further declare that it is a crime to have sex with someone while that person is “mentally incapacitated” -   defined as being “temporarily incapable of appraising or controlling [their] conduct due to the influence of a narcotic, anesthetic, or other substance;” alcohol is considered one such substance. The language of the law does not specify a certain number of drinks, or a certain blood alcohol level that constitutes incapacitation, recognizing that each person reacts differently to alcohol. 

Michigan State Law thus states that a person who is intoxicated is legally unable to give consent to sexual activity, meaning that sexual intimacy with someone who is “mentally incapacitated” meets the legal definition of a sexual assault. If you are unsure about whether your partner is too intoxicated to be able to give consent, wait until they are sober so that you can both talk about what you want. A good guideline to follow in all sexual situations, especially those that involve alcohol, is that the person who increases the level/intensity of the sexual activity is responsible for making sure that all parties are capable of giving consent, and that consent is being given.