Not worth reporting: Women’s experiences of drug-facilitated sexual assault

Author: 

Harvey, S., Hayton, L., Beard, N and Holly, J (2013)

Publication date: 

1st Jan 2015

Dominant narratives around the links between sexual violence and alcohol or other drug use are often problematic, if not outright victim-blaming. This includes public awareness campaigns that seek to limit women’s freedom of movement and expression through advice to limit drinking or take taxis home from bars, through to jury attitudes that result in women being seen as less ‘reliable’ witnesses in court if they were intoxicated at the time of the offence. Nevertheless, it seems clear that perpetrators are often predatory and do target vulnerabilities, with a third of survivors who report being raped to the Metropolitan Police Service also reporting that they had taken substances prior to the attack, and one in six reporting having a mental health problem (Stanko, 2011).

While it is an offence under the Sexual Offences Act 2003 to administer a substance with the intent of incapacitating someone in order to sexually assault them, the law is less clear when survivors have knowingly consumed drugs and/or alcohol. The prosecution must demonstrate that the survivor lacked ‘capacity to consent’ through intoxication, and while judgements have suggested that the law provides clear guidance on capacity (R v Bree [2007] EWCA 256), survivors who were intoxicated at the time they were raped continue to face being labelled as unreliable witnesses, both by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), jurors (Wenger & Bornstein, 2006) and the public (Opinion Matters, 2007; ICM, 2005).

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