Alcohol Cannot be Used as Excuse for Domestic Abuse, Sexual Assault

by Mary Fontanazza

Summer is here and in Wisconsin, this means outdoor festivals and concerts,beach parties, picnics, softball and baseball games, backyard bonfires and brat frys where alcohol is often available and consumed in massive quantities.

Sometimes incidents of domestic abuse, dating violence or sexual assault happen after a person has been drinking at one these events.

It is unlikely anyone would say these summer activities cause domestic abuse, dating violence and sexual assault. However, many people believe drinking, particularly excessive drinking, causes such violence.

Most who abuse alcohol do not batter or sexually assault others. While there is a connection between alcohol and such violence (the victim and/or perpetrator may have been drinking; one or both may have been intoxicated), there is no research to indicate alcohol use or abuse causes a person to batter or sexually assault another.

It is less painful for victims of these crimes and their families to believe drinking caused the violence and that alcohol treatment and sobriety will end the violence. This also holds true for families and friends of people who perpetrate acts of intimate partner violence and sexual assault.

Not believing these myths requires people to:

  • Acknowledge the perpetrator intentionally committed the violence.
  • Acknowledge a family member, intimate partner or friend is a rapist, batterer or pedophile.
  • Abandon their hopes of a future with someone they chose as a partner.
  • Admit their love and concern has not made the situation better or changed the perpetrator's behavior.
  • Not protect the perpetrator from being held accountable for the violence.

We must dispel these myths if we want perpetrators to accept responsibility for their violence.

Domestic abuse and sexual assault are not due to a loss of control brought on by excessive drinking. These crimes are about gaining and maintaining control by using any means, including violence.

Perpetrators often use alcohol to excuse their behavior and deny personal responsibility for their violence. Some may say they did not intend to hurt the other person but at the same time, claim no recollection of the assault. Memory loss and lack of intent are not the same.

Intoxicated individuals usually have difficulty performing tasks, yet battering and sexual assault occur despite a perpetrator's level of intoxication. This indicates they are even more determined, more focused and may have to use more force to assault the victim. Using more force often results in more severe injuries.

Battering is learned behavior, not the result of substance abuse. Studies indicate batterers who beat their partners while under the influence of alcohol also beat them when sober. Treatment for alcohol abuse does not "cure" domestic abuse; both problems must be treated independently.

Alcohol is a one of several risk factors related to sexual assault and dating/intimate partner violence. It is often the medium perpetrators use to slip date rape drugs to their victims. Alcohol can lower inhibitions, making it easier for a perpetrator to ignore boundaries. Intoxication makes it more difficult for a victim to guard against an attack.

To reduce that risk:

  • Don't accept drinks from someone you don't know.
  • Never accept a drink in an open container or leave your drink unattended.
  • Try to avoid conflicts or arguments if you or your partner were drinking.
  • Don't mix sexual decisions with alcohol.
  • When you feel uncomfortable with someone's drinking, try to leave the situation safely.
  • Don't go off with people you don't know when you have been drinking.



  • Posted from, June 21, 2009, by permission of the author, Mary Fontanazza, director of advocacy for Safe Harbor of Sheboygan County in Wisconsin, a shelter for victims of domestic abuse.