Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Alcohol consumption and sexual assault

Our thanks to Michelle Harris, Outreach Advocate for Sexual Assault Support Services of Maine, for submitting the  following blog post. 

Research presented at the latest Five Town CTC Coalition meeting highlighted the fact that underage alcohol consumption is a major concern to our communities. It is important to bring to light some of the not so obvious and yet related risks to this data that may affect our children in dangerous and potentially long-lasting ways.
The issue of sexual assault and alcohol consumption may appear to be worlds apart, when in fact there is evidence that shows a relationship between the two. Some of these relationships may be obvious common sense, while others may be new and just as alarming. Extensive information on this relationship can be found at
Let’s look at the first possibility of an offender providing and encouraging alcohol consumption in an effort to reduce an intended target’s resistance and inhibitions. The influence of alcohol can impair the judgment of a person, who can then find him or herself in a dangerous situation, potentially being faced with a person who will not take no for an answer. Furthermore, if enough alcohol is consumed, a person may entirely lose the ability to give consent at all, which to an offender who has preplanned this event, is exactly the opportunity he or she was trying to create.
 A person may also use alcohol as a way to reduce his or her own inhibitions relating to respecting another person’s boundaries and right to say no. This can be used as a convenient excuse after things have gone too far, after a victim has said no, but whose wishes have gone unheard and are ignored.
There are emotional repercussions after a sexual assault, particularly one in which alcohol consumption was a factor. If a survivor had been drinking and was sexually assaulted, there can be feelings of guilt and self-blame, in spite of the fact that the person committing acts of sexual aggression is entirely responsible for his or her actions.
A person who has been drinking and was sexually assaulted can be apt to minimize the event, again taking on deep feelings of guilt and of shame. When a survivor reports a crime such as this to the police, a crime in which one or both parties were consuming alcohol, the case can become that much more complex. If a survivor’s blood alcohol level is found to be high enough to suggest that he or she was not in physical condition to provide consent, this can serve as evidence of that person being incapacitated.
There is another perspective to the relationship between alcohol consumption and sexual assault. That is the fact that if a person is also a survivor of child sexual assault, alcohol consumption can be used as a coping mechanism. This increases the risk of being sexually assaulted once again, perhaps by “lowering the ability to perceive risk as the intoxication level increases.” (Norris, J., 2008, December).

Underage drinking is something that we as parents and community members are rightfully concerned about. It is important to not only look at the issue on the surface, but also to examine the hidden risks involved, if we are to make effective and lasting changes.

Finally, and most importantly, there is absolutely no circumstance or excuse that ever gives a person the right to sexually assault another person. Sexual assault is a serious crime that should be taken seriously and at no time is a victim at fault.

There are some great tips for parents of teens located at

Norris, J. (2008, December).
The Relationship Between Alcohol Consumption and Sexual Violence. Harrisburg, PA: VAWnet,
project of the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence/Pennsylvania Coalition
Against Domestic Violence. Retrieved February 28, 2013 from:

Sexual Assault Support Services of Midcoast Maine
24 hour support line:  1-800-822-5999

Friday, March 1, 2013

The Science of not believing in Science

Cruising around the internet this week, I ran across an interesting article that focused on why people often are unconvinced by scientific evidence.  The article appeared in Mother Jones in 2011 and has a liberal slant, but it contained information that I think applies to a variety of human enterprises...including the prevention of problem adolescent behaviors like substance abuse and suicide.

Chris Mooney's piece (The Science of Why We Don't Believe Science) explains that even when we are at our most "logical," our prior knowledge, emotions, and biases deeply color the way we process information.  One of the ways that this plays out is in the way we determine who is credible.  It turns out that we are not very quick to accept those who contradict our deeply held beliefs or values as expert...

This makes considerable sense when you think about it.  If people have developed a belief system over many years, and have organized their actions around it, it would be somewhat irrational to think that they might throw their beliefs out based on a piece of "evidence."  (Even if it was very sound evidence, from a logical standpoint.)  People gravitate toward information that confirms what they believe, and they select the sources that deliver it. No real surprise here.

This leaves those of us trying to infuse science-based practice into our community prevention work in a bit of a pickle.  How do we deliver information in a way that can be heard and processed so that it neither overstates or understates the credibility of the person or organization delivering the message, nor leads to the backlash of even more entrenched views that sometimes results from being confronted with information that contradicts what you currently believe?

For example, if I were to tell you that marijuana use can cause addiction, what is your reaction?  Do you first weigh the statement against your own knowledge and experience (perhaps your friends used it and they aren't addicts?)?  Or do you first consider whether I am likely to be an expert in this area of information?  What would lead you to be likely to read and objectively consider studies that support this fact?

As a real science geek, this is fascinating.  As a preventionist with a real sense of urgency around correcting some common misconceptions, it is terrifying.

I would love to hear your thoughts about it!