Alcohol Does Not Affect The Accuracy Of Sexual Assault Victims’ Memories

New study could be a landmark for reporting and convicting sex crimes

In what could be a landmark for the conviction of sexual assault crimes, a new study has found that even if a victim was drunk at the time of the attack, they can still accurately remember details of the crime.

The study, carried out at the University of Leicester, observed that while inebriated victims remember fewer pieces of information about the attack what they do remember is just as accurate as sober participants.

Published in the scientific journal Memory, the team created an interactive hypothetical sexual assault scenario in a lab setting using a balanced placebo design –all female participants would have believed they were drinking alcohol despite one group being given a placebo.
 
They then underwent a memory test 24 hours and four months later. Scientists found that the intoxicated women reported less information, answering ‘I don’t know’ more often than the placebo group.

However, what they did remember was every bit as accurate as the sober participants.

Dr Heather Flowe from the University of Leicester’s Department of Neuroscience, Psychology and Behaviour said:
 
“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.
 
“Consequently, it is not likely that a crime will be solved without victim testimony.
 
“Accordingly, intoxicated victims should report less information overall, but the accuracy of the information they do report might not be different from sober victims.”

These radical new findings are being used by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and Leicestershire Police to develop national guidelines for how police interview sexual assault victims, hopefully leading to a higher rate of prosecution.

Detective Inspector Reme Gibson from Leicestershire Police’s Rape Investigation Unit said: “It has been a long held misconception that victims and witnesses who are intoxicated are not able to give as good an account as they would when they are sober.

“The delays in speaking with victims accounts sometimes for loss of potential evidence.
 
“I hope these findings better support future investigations, particularly in the sexual violence arena which is already often complex and not without challenges.”

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