In a Pentagon report released in December, the military called alcohol a weapon in its latest sexual assault prevention guide. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered a review of alcohol policies in an effort to hinder the occurrences of sexual assaults.
According to the Colorado Springs Gazette, the Defense Department stated that alcohol was a contributing factor in nearly fifty percent of the 6,000 sexual assaults reported last year.
“It’s a weapon,” said Katharina Booth, Chief Trial Deputy and Chief of the Boulder District Attorney’s Office sexual assault unit. She said the change comes from the realization that perpetrators are more likely to use alcohol to subdue their sexual assault victims than guns, threats and fists.
The January arrest of Air Force Academy junior cadet Daniel Ryerson brought the issue of alcohol and sexual assault to the public interest once again as he was charged with sexually assaulting an inebriated female classmate. The two had been party-hopping in Boulder on November 1. Ryerson was alledgely the assault victim’s “wingman” and was supposed to look out for her. The police has DNA evidence to present in court later this month.
Air Force Spokeswoman Lt. Col. Kirstin Reimann said that workers who serve alcohol in clubs near military installations are being told to watch for those who would use booze as a weapon. Another step requires commanders to “work with community partners on responsible alcohol sales practices and bystander intervention training for alcohol servers,” Reimann stated.
The Colorado Spring Gazette reported that last week, academy leaders sat through a presentation on sexual assault and the new view of alcohol’s role. The speaker, Anne Munch, co-developer of the Air Force’s new bystander intervention program to prevent sexual assault, told the academy brass that old views of alcohol put too much focus on the victims of sexual assault.
“For the same reason that a robber chooses a drunk victim over a sober victim, a rapist will also choose a drunk victim,” she said.
Colorado Springs Police Sgt. John Koch said his detectives frequently encounter and investigate sexual assaults that involve drunken victims. He said under military and Colorado law, victims who have passed out or are too drunk to render judgment cannot consent to sex.
Even though Koch advocates for responsible drinking, he also tells victims that drinking too much alcohol can never justify rape. “No matter what you did, it doesn’t excuse someone victimizing you,” he said.
However, no matter how much effort has been put into changing how authorities see the relationship between alcohol and sexual assault, victims of rape remain far less likely to report their attack if they were drinking.
According to the Colorado Spring Gazette, sexual assault has long been cited as the most commonly unreported crime. The Pentagon is hopeful things are changing as its December report that shows as many as 24 percent of military sexual assault victims were reporting the crime. This is up 11 percent from the previous year.