Lawmakers discuss role of alcohol in sexual assault in Higher Education Committee hearing

Caleb Wong

Lawmakers vigorously questioned researchers, activists and higher education officials about sexual assault in a hearing before the Higher Education Committee on Tuesday.    

Representatives from Baylor University and advocacy group End Rape on Campus as well as UT researcher Noël Busch-Armendariz testified before lawmakers about the role of alcohol in sexual assault, ways to support survivors and how to prevent assaults before they happen. 

Annie Clark, executive director of End Rape on Campus and a survivor of sexual assault, told lawmakers that schools need to make sure students are aware of institutional policies relating to sexual assault, such as alcohol amnesty, which can encourage students to report instances of sexual assault, even when underage drinking was involved. 

“Most places do have these amnesty policies, but most students don’t know they exist,” Clark said. “It’s really making sure that not only is your policy good, but that students know about it and that it’s
communicated clearly.” 

Busch-Armendariz said the use of alcohol is important to examine since it’s a large part of college life.

“Alcohol is connected in a lot of violent crimes, but especially in sexual assault,” Busch-Armendariz said. “It’s exponentially more important to talk about that, not only happening during the assault, but also what happens to students afterwards because we know that people start to self-medicate with alcohol and drugs, which may change their whole trajectory of who they are.” 

The role of alcohol and sexual assault also came up during an exchange between Busch-Armendariz and Rep. Myra Crownover (R-Denton). Seventy-two percent of sexual assault instances occur when the victim is too intoxicated to give consent, according to “The Blueprint For Campus Police: Responding to Sexual Assualt” report. 

“I would be curious to see how many times a pure, sober sexual assault happened,” Crownover (R-Denton) said. ”The two are so intertwined — I can’t see talking about one without talking about the other … . The best defense is being sober.”

Busch-Armendariz said she agreed with Crownover’s statement about the relationship between alcohol and sexual assault. However, connecting alcohol and sexual assault too closely can lead to victim-blaming, said Grace Gilker, director of the Women’s Resource Agency at UT.

“She’s right in the sense that alcohol is the number one date rape drug, but I think the extent to which she connected substances and sexual assault is problematic and borders on victim blaming,” said Gilker, a Plan II and history sophomore, in an email. “Furthermore, the word choice of ‘pure’ in describing a sexual assault does not sit well with me.” 

Crownover’s controversial stance set off debates on social media. Crownover later clarified her comments during the hearing on Twitter. 

“Let me be clear, whether or not a sexual assault victim was intoxicated does NOT condone or excuse the actions of the other party,” Crownover wrote. 

UT’s alcohol amnesty policy allows students calling for help or experiencing an alcohol-related medical emergency to avoid formal disciplinary charges from the University under certain conditions. The policy applies in the case of the possession or consumption of alcohol by a minor, the unauthorized possession of use of alcohol on campus and intoxication resulting from alcohol, according to University Health Services.