Victims Remember Sexual Assaults Even if They Were Drunk, Study Finds

By May Wilkerson 08/19/15

This could eliminate the idea that victims cannot provide accurate testimony.

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Victims of sexual assault tend to remember their attacks, even if they were drunk at the time, according to new research from the United Kingdom.

The study, from the University of Leicester, could help nullify the idea that victims cannot provide accurate testimony if they were drunk during a sexual assault. It also highlights the importance of police not waiting too long to interview victims after an assault occurs.

Polly Neate, chief executive of the charity Women’s Aid, believes the findings could help the U.K. work towards ending a culture of victim blaming. “When a victim is intoxicated during the crime, questions about the accuracy of testimony are raised in the minds of criminal investigators,” she said. “Out of these concerns, the police might forgo interviewing victims who were intoxicated during the offense.”

In the study, women were shown an interactive hypothetical sexual assault in a lab. They went on to complete a memory test after 24 hours, and another after four months. Participants who were drunk responded to more questions with “I don't know,” but ultimately their responses were just as accurate as those who were sober, researchers found.

The Leicestershire police said they will use the study to develop new guidelines for procedures regarding sexual assault charges. There were over 64,000 sex offenses recorded in England and Wales in 2013-2014.

“We hope that the criminal justice system will take this research seriously,” said Neate. She called the study “a step in the right direction,” since it proves that intoxication would not influence a victim’s testimony.

“It is vital that we move away from the culture of shaming women that pervades our society and prevents women from accessing justice,” Neate continued. “All too often the victim’s behavior is called into question—she was drunk, she was wearing a short skirt—rather than the perpetrator’s actions.”

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May Wilkerson is a writer, comic and Managing Editor @someecards. Co-host of the podcast Crazy; In Bed w/alyssalimp. She is also the top Google result for "insufferable lunatic." Follow this insufferable lunatic on Twitter.

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