The Current

Research suggests double standard of onus when alcohol involved in sexual assault

Amid discussions of the role alcohol may have played in the Brett Kavanagh allegations, research suggests blame and responsibility tends to fall on the victim.

Victims who have been drinking tend to feel more responsible for attack, says psychologist

U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and Professor Christine Blasey Ford, testify during a Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., Sept. 27, 2018. (Jim Bourg/Reuters)

Read story transcript

Research suggests a double standard around blame and responsibility when alcohol is involved in a sexual assault.

Psychologist Kelly Cue Davis, who studies the relationship between alcohol and sexual assault, cited a 2012 study conducted in the Netherlands, which found that victims who have been drinking tend to feel more responsible for what happened. 

 Her most recent research is titled "The intersection of men's sexual violence perpetration and sexual risk behaviour." 

"They blame themselves. They feel like, 'I shouldn't have been drinking; if I hadn't been drinking this wouldn't have happened,'" Cue Davis told The Current's guest host Piya Chattopadhyay. 

Cue Davis who is also an associate professor at Arizona State University, added that perpetrators who were drinking at the time of an assault "feel less responsible."

These topics have come under the spotlight Thursday after the U.S. Senate judiciary committee heard from Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, who alleges he tried to sexually assault her when they were teenagers.

In her opening remarks, Ford said that during a party in the 1980s, a drunken 17-year-old Kavanaugh forced her down on a bed, groped her and tried to take off her clothes. Ford says was 15 years old at the time.

In his own testimony, Kavanaugh said his drinking habits, dating back to high school, never involved blacking out or memory loss.

Three other women have also alleged sexual assault by Kavanaugh, and all pointed to alcohol as a factor. Kavanaugh has denied all accusations.

Cue Davis also pointed to a 2009 American Psychological Association article on sexual assault involving female victims and male perpetrators, which suggests blame in these kinds of incidents is often one-sided.

"When a victim has been drinking, we tend to blame her more for the assault," she said. "But when an assailant has been drinking we tend to say, 'Oh that's a reason why he did it and we have to excuse him.'"

To examine in depth the connection between alcohol and sexual assault, The Current spoke to:

  • Bailey Reid, sexual assault services coordinator at Carleton University
  • Kelly Cue Davis, psychologist and associate professor at the College of Nursing and Health Innovation at Arizona State University. 

Listen to the full discussion near the top of this page.

Produced by Alison Masemann and Ines Colabrese.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?