Consent While Drunk Is Not Consent

In Uncategorized on August 23, 2011 at 3:55 pm

When I was in my second year in college, one of my sorority sisters was sexually assaulted at a party.  She was heavily intoxicated and would never have agreed to have sex with this man if she had been sober.  Her experience has always weighed heavily on me. 

This sister wasn’t the only one who experienced a sexual assault during my time as an undergraduate.  There were many more – and most of them stemmed from alcohol.

Yesterday, I stumbled across an article called “Alcohol and Consent: Why the Double Standard? – Whacked out, drunken-ass consent is still consent; otherwise we have to reexamine a woman’s right to drink.”  The basic argument of this article was that while drinking, a victim is responsible for his/her own assault because of the choice to drink alcohol.  Read the full article here.

By the definition put forth in the article, my sorority sister is responsible for her assault. 

Okay, let’s get something straight here – INTOXICATION DOES NOT INDICATE CONSENT!  Whether you are a man, a woman, or transgender, if you are drunk, you cannot legally give consent.  Period.  Whether I am slightly tipsy and unsure or if I’m completely obliterated drunk and begging for it, any sexual contact that occurs while I’m so incoherent is deemed sexual assault by the majority of states in this country, including Wyoming.

Wyoming law states that “if a victim is physically helpless, and the actor (perpetrator) knows or reasonably should know that the victim is physically helpless and that the victim has not consented,” it is sexual assault.  Further, if “the actor knows or should reasonably know that the victim through mental illness, mental deficiency or developmental disability,” then the actor is incapable of determining true consent to sexual behavior.  Intoxication can render a person both mentally and physically helpless – and therefore incapable of consenting to sexual assault.

Since this is a UW blog, the UW standard, as set forth by the UWPD, is that “consent is not given when a person uses force, threat of force, coercion or when the victim is asleep, unconscious, or incapacitated, which may include mental or cognitive disability, self-induced or forced intoxication from alcohol and/ or other drugs.”

Now, the article argues that if you black out while drunk, you are “still conscious and cognitive” during said blackout.  I disagree – you may be semi-conscious, yes.  But you are certainly not cognitive.  The definition of cognitive is: “concerned with the acquisition of knowledge; relating to the process of acquiring knowledge by the use of reasoning, intuition, or perception.”  You are not doing any of these things while under the influence of alcohol. 

The article also claims that rape is rape.  Sex under the influence of alcohol, when you’re too drunk to fully consent, “is just a shitty personal decision … Like every other ill-considered word or action we make while drunk – from drinking and driving to that scary tattoo – consensual sex is a consequence drinkers have to take responsibility for.”

To a certain extent, I agree.  If you get in a car and start driving, you are responsible for that action.  You have made that decision – you have not been forced, coerced, or pushed into it by someone else.  Not so with sexual behavior.  Man, woman, transgender, whatever – if you are drunk and someone takes advantage of that drunken state to engage in sexual behavior with you, it is sexual assault.

Finally, the article declared this idea that drunken consent is not consent as a “double standard.”  I will say that, yes, there is a double standard – but certainly not in the way that is described in the article.  The article seeks to blame the victim and pity the perpetrator who is then labeled a “sex offender” for life because of a drunken sexual interlude.  This is certainly not the double standard I see.

According to national statistics, only 40% of rapes/sexual assaults are reported.  Why?  Maybe because victims believe in double standards like this article and blame themselves for their assault.  Want to hear another “fun” (and true) double standard?  When a woman is intoxicated and is assaulted, she is often blamed because she was drunk and she shouldn’t have been.  When a man is intoxicated and assaults, he is often forgiven because he was drunk and didn’t know better or couldn’t control himself. 

Frankly, I find it nauseating. 

So, once again, let me make this point very clear —  It is NEVER your fault if you are sexually assaultedIf you are drunk and someone takes advantage of that drunken state to engage in sexual behavior with you, it is sexual assault.  INTOXICATION DOES NOT INDICATE CONSENT!

If you or your partner is intoxicated, it is best NOT to engage in sexual behavior until you’re both sober enough to consent – and to really enjoy the sex, let’s be honest!

What do you think about the points made in this article?  Tell me here in a comment or send a message (

  1. From Jody Mayer via email (Wyoming Coaltion Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, Sexual Violence Prevention Specialist):

    Hi Jules,

    I have a problem with this article. Obviously I’m going to have a problem with it, right?

    First, the author obviously doesn’t understand the impact sexual violence has on young women. He seems to completely ignore the fact that most women don’t just wake up the next morning and decide that they are embarrassed that they hooked up with someone so they cry rape. Wrong. Also, by attempting to make his case based on a comparison to drunk driving and trashing a theater, he is completing ignoring the fact that someone else was also involved and made a conscious decision to take advantage of a drunk woman.

    This type of victim blaming really rubs me the wrong way because it is basically saying, “because you made the decision to get drunk, your punishment is rape and the long term emotional effects that come with it. Enjoy!”

    Yeah, people often make decisions when they are drunk that they wouldn’t make when sober, but that doesn’t mean that the potential perpetrator should be allowed to have a hay day with the situation. Primary prevention says that we need to teach everyone about sexual respect- if they know that the person that they want to hook up with would not do so if they sober, then they need to know not to do it.

    Thanks for sharing this article with me.


    • Jody,

      When you say “he is completing ignoring the fact that someone else was also involved and made a conscious decision to take advantage of a drunk woman” you are missing the entire point of the article. If both parties are drunk neither party can make a “conscious” decision. You have just proved the double standard by thinking that men make the conscious decision and women do not, when both parties are drunk.

      You seem to have a skewed view of how these drunken hookups/rapes actually occur. It is not a sober man lurking in the shadows waiting to “take advantage” of a drunk women. You would be surprised to see how consensual the couple may look during the act but because the women decided she didn’t want to do it the next day, she can charge him with rape. Does that seem right to you? Is it okay to give someone such power to ruin someone else’s life before any trial or hearings occur? I don’t think so.

  2. Can I get drunk and have sex? Seeing as consent is not possible, according to you, whilst drunk I will use the word “willing” instead. If i get drunk and then willingly have sex with someone (who is sober for the sake of argument) I bring them back to my room, take of my own clothes and hop on their junk, have I been raped? I feel that this is unhelpfully blurring the lines of rape what rape is (which is sex with an unwilling or oblivious partner) and is making the idea of crying rape much more believable. I do not agree with victim blaming and I do not think this is what I am doing, being raped whilst drunk is different to having sex whilst drunk.

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