London: Victims of sexual assault who were intoxicated during the crime can still report accurate information when interviewed by the police, significant research shows.
People are often concerned about the accuracy of testimony given by victims who were intoxicated during a sexual assault. But a new study by University of Leicester researchers has found that while alcohol intoxicated participants report fewer pieces of information about an assault, the information that they do provide is just as accurate as sober participants.
“Serious violent offenses often involve intoxicated witnesses and victims. In particular, in sexual assault and rape cases, victims and perpetrators are likely to have been under the influence of alcohol during the crime,” said Dr Heather Flowe from University of Leicester who led the project. When a victim is intoxicated during the crime, questions about the accuracy of testimony are raised in the minds of criminal investigators.
“Out of these concerns, the police might forgo interviewing victims who were intoxicated during the offence. On the other hand, almost always in sexual offences, the victim is the only one who can provide information about the crime to investigators,” she explained. The team examined the influence of alcohol on remembering an interactive hypothetical sexual assault scenario in a laboratory setting. Female participants completed a memory test 24 hours and four months later.
Participants reported less information – by responding “don’t know” more often to questions – if they were under the influence of alcohol during the scenario than those who were not. However, the accuracy of the information intoxicated participants reported did not differ compared to sober participants. It suggests that intoxicated participants could accurately retain information from the event as well as those who were sober. Together with the Crown Prosecution Service and Leicestershire Police, the research findings are being applied to develop British national guidelines regarding how the police should interview sexual assault victims who were intoxicated during the crime.
“I hope these findings better support future investigations, particularly in the sexual violence arena which is already often complex and not without challenges,” noted detective inspector Reme Gibson from Leicestershire Police’s rape investigation unit. The paper, published in the journal Memory, is one of the first studies to use a placebo-controlled trial that investigates the effects of alcohol on memory within the context of sexual assault.