Alcohol consumption and the relationship between Perpetrator and Victim in Irish rape cases

Alcohol consumption by both perpetrators and victims of rape is very high in Ireland; yet, our understanding of the ways in which alcohol consumption intersects with various factors in rape cases remains poor. International studies indicate that alcohol consumption patterns in rape cases differ by relationship between perpetrator and victim.1 Rape and Justice in Ireland (RAJI) provides evidence of a similar distribution of alcohol consumption in rape cases by relationship type between victim and perpetrator.2

The Rape and Justice in Ireland study examined Garda records of over 600 rape complaints and found:

  • 76% of suspects of rape, whose alcohol consumption was known, had consumed alcohol on the occasion of the alleged rape.3
  •  79% of complainants of rape had consumed alcohol on the occasion of the rape.4

Furthermore, co-drinking patterns were particularly common, whereby the level of intoxication of the rape suspect mirrored the level of intoxication of the rape complainant.5 Thus, where rape suspects had consumed alcohol rape complainants were also likely to have consumed alcohol.6

RAJI  identified that relationship type was related to alcohol consumption patterns in rape cases in Ireland.

Rapes committed by strangers were the most likely to exhibit conflicting drinking patterns between complainant and accused. In 26% of rape complaints involving strangers, only the victim or the perpetrator had been drinking. In contrast, 13% of rape cases involving complainants and suspects who knew each other indicated divergent drinking patterns.  Nevertheless, stranger rape is less commonly reported in Ireland, accounting for approximately a third of rapes.7

In comparison to stranger rape cases, in acquaintance rape cases where perpetrator and victim were known to each other but were not involved in a current or previous sexual relationship, co-drinking was exceptionally high. 71% of such cases involved both the defendant and the complainant consuming alcohol on the occasion of the rape. Such a high figure reflects the likelihood that the complainant and suspect had been socialising together on the occasion of the rape. It is also notable that suspects and complainants who were acquaintances in a non-sexual relationship were also the most likely to have been binge drinking: 54% of complainants and 45% of suspects in acquaintance rape cases had been binge drinking on the occasion of the rape.8

While the involvement of alcohol in acquaintance rape cases is very prevalent, alcohol involvement in rapes that occur between intimate and ex-intimate partners is less evident. Intimate partners and ex-intimate partners were the least likely of the three relationship types to have been drinking on the occasion of the rape suggesting that alcohol is a less significant factor in precipitating rape between intimate and ex-intimate partners.9

The results from RAJI echo American studies which similarly found that the relationship between perpetrator and victim of rape tends to be more casual in alcohol-involved sexual assaults 10,11  whereas sexual assaults that did not involve alcohol were more likely to be perpetrated by a romantic partner. 12 This evidence suggests that alcohol consumption is more likely to be a relevant factor in the context of acquaintance rape. Given that this is the most common form of rape in Ireland there is good cause to go beyond recognition of the presence of alcohol-involved acquaintance rape towards an improved understanding of how alcohol may be implicated in acquaintance rapes inIreland.

What can we learn from evidence on alcohol consumption and perpetrator -victim relationship in Ireland?

The evidence indicates that alcohol consumption is less likely to be involved in intimate partner sexual violence than in sexual violence perpetrated by an acquaintance. Intimate partner rape is more likely to be part of a pattern of on-going violence within a relationship.13 Therefore, alcohol is less likely to be used to facilitate rape by incapacitating the victim, to excuse the behaviour of the perpetrator, or to contribute towards a failure to correctly interpret communication. Essentially, intimate partner rape will, or will not, occur regardless of alcohol consumption. Reducing the rate of intimate partner sexual violence is therefore unlikely to depend on alcohol reduction initiatives.

However, alcohol consumption is most likely to be involved in acquaintance rape. Acquaintance rape is the most commonly reported rape in Ireland14 and the extent of alcohol involvement in such rapes likely reflects the common social settings in which male and female acquaintances socialise, such as pubs, clubs and parties. In these social contexts the presence of alcohol is pervasive and alcohol-expectancies are most likely to come into play contributing to circumstances in which a rape is potentially more likely to occur.

Recognising the influence of victim-offender relationship type as it intersects with alcohol consumption in rape is useful in effectively targeting research and interventions. As relationship type and alcohol consumption also interact with the context in which acquaintances socialise, the effects of alcohol and the beliefs about the effects of alcohol, these relationships require further scrutiny to develop successful strategies to reduce the rate of rape in Ireland.

1 Ullman, S. E. and Brecklin, L.R., 2000. Alcohol and Adult Sexual Assault in a National Sample of Women. Journal Of Substance Abuse, 11(4):405-420; Abbey, A.Ross, L.T., McDuffy, D., and McAuslan, P. 1996. Alcohol and dating risk factors for sexual assault among college women. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 20:147-169

2Hanly, C., Healy, D., and Scriver, S. 2009. Rape and Justice InIreland: A National Study of Survivor, Prosecutor and Court Responses to Rape.Dublin: Liffey.

3 ibid.: 227.

 4 ibid: 225.

5ibid.: 255.

6 ibid.: 235.

7ibid.: 22.

8 ibid.

10 Harrington, N.T., and Leitenberg, H.  1994. Relationship between alcohol consumption and victim behaviours immediately preceding sexual aggression by an acquaintance. Violence and Victims 9:315-324.

11 Ullman and Brecklin, 2000

12Norris, J, Nurius, P.S. and Gaylord, J.E. 1998. Alcohol’s Relationship to Recognising and Resisting sexual aggression. Paper presented at the meeting for the International Society for Research on Aggression,Mahwah,NJ;

13 McFarlane, J.,Malecha, A., Watson, K., Gist, J., Batten, E., Hall, I., Smith, S. 2005. Intimate Partner Sexual Assault Against Women: Frequency, Health Consequences, and Treatment Outcomes. Obstetrics & Gynecology. 105(1):99-108;

14Hanly 2009: 22.