Alcohol: Sex Offender Weapon of Choice

  • Published
  • By 48th Fighter Wing
  • Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office
(Editor's note: The following is adapted from the Sexual Assault Awareness Month 2008 Resource Guide) 

Studies show that the weapon most often used to commit a sexual assault is not a gun or a knife. Offenders use alcohol and other incapacitating substances much more frequently to coerce and incapacitate victims in acts of sexual violence. As a result, social scientists are revising their theories about the "typical" rapist. Given the current media attention, most people visualize a rapist as a stranger who accosts victims in a deserted location.

However, research demonstrates that offenders often travel in the same social circles as their victims. In fact, some make a point of getting to know or even date their victim before they commit a criminal offense. Most rapists typically have good social skills, have other "consensual" sexual relationships, are educated and employed, are not mentally ill, and do not use weapons to maim their victims. Eighty percent of sexual assaults happen during some form of social interaction, usually on a date. Most people find it difficult to believe that a rapist might be someone they know or have dated. This might be because rapists commonly use a variety of techniques -- some very subtle - to lower their victims' defenses and win their confidence.

Just getting to know someone is a very subtle way to make a person less suspicious of their ultimate intentions. Another commonly used technique is to overpower someone with alcohol or incapacitating drugs. Perpetrators seek victims who have used alcohol or other intoxicating substances because
such drugs interfere with the ability to verbally and physically resist sexual advances. Some perpetrators employ alcohol to completely incapacitate a target, embarrass the victim, and ultimately hide the crime. Offenders may also use alcohol during the commission of the crime or hide behind their use of alcohol in an attempt to exonerate themselves. When intoxicated, perpetrators often ignore potential consequences and act with increased impulsivity. Studies confirm that the more perpetrators drink, the more likely they will commit sexually violent acts. A study of college rapists found that 62 percent of the offenders believed they had committed rape only because of their alcohol consumption. They did not see themselves as "real criminals," because real criminals use weapons to assault strangers. In fact, some perpetrators may purposely get drunk when they want to act in a sexually aggressive way, having the mistaken belief that alcohol use excuses their socially inappropriate behavior. The best defense against these kinds of perpetrators is to watch out for potentially dangerous situations:

· Limit your drinking to a reasonable amount.
· Designate a non-drinking friend to help with safety and good decision making.
· Avoid leaving your drink unattended and do not accept drinks that you did not order.
· Avoid drinking in unfamiliar environments and around unfamiliar people.

Many of the risks presented by sex offenders who use alcohol and other substances as weapons can be managed by looking out for friends and co-workers, in other words, be a BYSTANDER.

When someone is in trouble, ASK! if they need help. Get assistance if requested. If someone appears to be trouble, don't be afraid to ACT! and INTERVENE! on behalf of that person.
You can get more information from RAF Lakenheath's Sexual Assault Response Coordinator at 226-3765, or

Facts You Should Know About Sexual Assault and Alcohol

9. Research has found that at least 80 percent of college students who had unwanted sex were under the influence of alcohol.
8. Men are more likely than women to assume that a woman who drinks alcohol on a date is a willing sex partner. Forty percent of men who think this way also believe it is acceptable to force sex on an intoxicated woman.
7. Alcohol consumption by perpetrators and victims tends to co-occur--that is, when one of them is drinking, the other one is generally drinking, too.
6. Alcohol use can contribute to an atmosphere where anything goes, including rape by individuals or groups.
5. Alcohol impairs judgment and lowers inhibitions, making some people more likely to commit a rape or sexual assault.
4. Alcohol slows reflexes and impairs the ability to recognize potentially dangerous situations.
3. Under the influence of alcohol, both men and women have a decreased ability to interpret social situations accurately. Consequently, risk of sexual assault for both sexes increases with alcohol use.
2. Although popular media typically focuses on Rohypnol ("roofies") and GHB as rape drugs, alcohol is the substance most commonly used in drug facilitated rapes.
1. Military law recognizes that when someone is passed out, they are unable to give consent. If you have sex with someone who is passed out or incapable of giving consent, it is considered SEXUAL ASSAULT.