Saturday, April 22, 2006

Drinking and Culpability

Of importance to the Duke rape case, Michelle Anderson points us to an interesting study about how alcohol affects people's perceptions of culpability in rape cases.
How will intoxication of the parties affect an assessment of blame? Studies on the issue are fascinating. In a 1982 study (Richardson & Campbell, The Effect of Alcohol on Attributions of Blame for Rape, 8 Per. Soc. Psychol. Bull. 468 (1982)), participants read a story about a college student raped at a party. Some students read a story in which the attacker was drunk and some read a story in which the victim was drunk. The male attacker was held less responsible for the rape when he was intoxicated than when he was sober. By contrast, the female victim was held more responsible when she was intoxicated than when she was sober.

In a 1997 study (Stormo et al., Attributions about Acquaintance Rape: The Role of Alcohol and Individual Differences, 27 J. Applied Soc. Psychol. 279 (1997)), participants assessed rape scenarios involving two college students who meet at an off-campus party. Students read stories that varied the level of alcohol consumption by the perpetrator and victim. The study indicated:
Results of the present investigation support and extend previous research indicating that intoxicated behavior differentially influences the degree to which responsibility and blame are attributed to the victim and perpetrator depicted in a rape scenario. Whereas the bottle may grant a pardon to the perpetrator, it tends to hold greater blame for the victim.

The study continued, "When portrayed as moderately or highly intoxicated, the victim was assigned significantly more responsibility/blame and the perpetrator significantly less." It noted, "At the same time, perpetrators were held less responsible and blamed less when portrayed as moderately or highly intoxicated."

Hence, his inebriation tends to taint her and exonerate him. Likewise, her inebriation tends to taint her and exonerate him. Boys will be boys. Girls had better not be drunken sluts.

The double standard has an exception, however. The 1997 study indicated that, if the victim was perceived as more inebriated than the perpetrator, he was perceived to be more blameworthy. "This suggests," researchers wrote, that participants "placed additional blame on the perpetrator when he seemed to be taking advantage of someone more incapacitated than he."

One thing that I wish the studies included (or maybe they did and Professor Anderson didn't include them) was if the gender of the study participants meaningfully impacted there response. Such data would definitely help refine some of the issues I raised in "Rape for the Perspective of its Victims."

But in spite of that, I think this sort of mentality is important to keep in mind as we evaluate the Duke case. The role of alcohol is definitely going to come up as the trial continues, and it's important that, when evaluating it as a factor, we do not do so in a discriminatory manner.


The probligo said...

There was a charming little gent here in Auckland a couple years back who tried to suggest that because his victims were insensate (he had drugged their drinks) then they suffered no mental distress as a result of his raping them.

Anonymous said...

Most studies show the same results regardless of gender of the participants. I'm not sure what the study you cited would show, but that seems to be the trend.