Home > Rape in Ireland – what role does alcohol play?

Mongan, Deirdre (2010) Rape in Ireland – what role does alcohol play? Drugnet Ireland, Issue 33, Spring 2010, p. 11.

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The Rape Crisis Network Ireland launched its report, Rape and justice in Ireland: a national study of survivor, prosecutor and court responses to rape,on 7 December 2009.1 The main aim of this study was to gather information about the causes of attrition in rape cases, to facilitate the development of a coherent response to the problem of rape in Ireland. The secondary aims were to build a more precise profile of rape in Ireland and to evaluate the experiences of victims who engage with the criminal justice system. 

There were three strands to this study:
·         100 individual rape victims were interviewed about their experience of the legal process.
·         597 files on reported rapes received by of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) from 2000 to 2004 were studied.
·         173 Central Criminal Court cases from 2000 to 2005 and 35 transcripts of contested trials were analysed.
Interviews with rape victims
·         All of the 100 rape victims interviewed were female, half were single, and the median age was 27. Over two-thirds of the incidents occurred in houses, with the victim’s own home being the single most common location. Two-thirds were raped by someone known to them. 
·         In 70% of cases the victim reported that she had been drinking prior to the incident; 16% had consumed two drinks or less, 25% had consumed 3–5 drinks and 29% had consumed six drinks or more. In 58% of cases the victim reported that the offender had been drinking; 24% stated that the offender had consumed a moderate amount of alcohol; and a further 24% stated that the victim had been drinking a lot at the time of the assault. 
·         Two-thirds of the victims informed the gardaí about the rape and 49% pursued the case.
Analysis of DPP files
·         Rates of alcohol consumption among complainants were high: over 80% had consumed alcohol around the time of the offence, with 45% described as severely intoxicated. These findings place Irish complainants of rape at the top of the list for alcohol consumption, when compared with British and United States studies.
·         The majority of suspects were intoxicated at the time of the offence, with 41% severely intoxicated and 27% moderately intoxicated. 
·         The DPP prosecuted three out of every 10 reported rapes, and the main reason for failure to prosecute was lack of evidence.
·         Uncertainty about the incident or about consent due to excessive alcohol consumption was cited as a factor in the failure to prosecute in many cases.
Analysis of Criminal Court cases
·         Analysis of these cases found high levels of alcohol consumption by both complainants and defendants. 
·         There was reluctance among juries to convict unless the rape conformed to the stranger-rape stereotype.
The relationship between alcohol consumption and sexual violence is complex and caution should be taken before concluding that alcohol is a causal factor in rape. Those who drink heavily may find themselves in situations that are more likely to lead to an assault, such as socialsing in a pub or at a party. Nevertheless, alcohol is a disinhibitor and can increase aggression, which may increase the likelihood of an individual committing a rape. 
The results of this study indicate that alcohol consumption, especially drinking to intoxication, is a feature in a high proportion of rapes committed in Ireland. Alcohol use also decreases the likelihood of the victim reporting the rape and increases the likelihood of blame being attributed to the victim. Research has shown that 58% of clients attending the Sexual Assault Treatment Unit in the Rotunda Hospital in 2003 had consumed more than four drinks; alcohol has also been found to be involved in approximately half of all cases of adult sexual abuse. 
The authors of the report highlight that Ireland’s drinking culture needs to be tackled, particularly as it affects the behaviour of potential perpetrators. They also recommend that young men be targeted by a media campaign to make them aware that rape is a possible consequence of binge drinking, and to remind them that they are responsible for their own actions, and that voluntary intoxication does not relieve them of that responsibility, morally or legally.  
1. Hanly C, Healy D and Scriver S (2009) Rape and justice in Ireland: a national study of survivor, prosecutor and court responses to rape. Dublin: The Liffey Press.
Item Type
Publication Type
Irish-related, Open Access, Article
Drug Type
Intervention Type
Screening / Assessment
Issue Title
Issue 33, Spring 2010
19 April 2010
Page Range
p. 11
Health Research Board
Issue 33, Spring 2010

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