Watch your drink umbrella programWhile sexual assault is never the victim’s fault, people should take reasonable precautions, especially when drinking in public bars and nightclubs.

The Forensic Science Service in Nottingham, England detected the presence of alcohol in 81 per cent of samples taken from victims of sexual assault, with 60 per cent of those at levels of twice the drink-drive threshold.

No one ever asks to be sexually assaulted, but it’s clear from these statistics that many people in Nottingham and probably elsewhere are taking little responsibility for their own safety. By drinking twice the legal limit they make themselves vulnerable to attack from sick minded people and they make it difficult for justice systems to convict perpetrators of sexual assault crimes.

The Nottingham region found that only about 6% of rape cases end in conviction. Research by the Economic and Social Research Council shows that juries are reluctant to find a guilty conviction in cases where the alleged victim had been drinking.

In light of this, the government of the UK made some changes to the laws in hopes to “boost the conviction rate in rape cases.” This assumes that the conviction rates do not reflect the true number of cases where the accused is in fact guilty, which is difficult if not impossible to prove. The idea that the government needs to change the law to boost conviction rates is questionable at best.

The legislation was passed in 2003 changing the law in England and Wales so that a defendant had to prove that he or she “reasonably” believed that the alleged victim had agreed to sex. Previously, the defendant had to “honestly” believe there was consent. The move was heralded as a significant tightening of the law.

Either way it sounds to me that the accused have to prove their innocence–guilty until proven innocent under the law. Nevertheless, the changes appear to have had no effect on the number of convictions in the UK.

“Though rape is never the victim’s fault, we live in a world with a few dangerous people amongst us and in such a world we have a responsibility to take some reasonable precautions to protect ourselves.”

A UK group (TBWA/London) recently ran a guerrilla campaign to raise awareness for drug spiking. Groups of people went to bars and nightclubs and placed cocktail umbrellas in people’s drinks when they weren’t looking. The umbrellas were printed with the words: “This is how easy it is to spike your drink.” Several of the people who participated in the campaign noted just how easy it was to slip one of these umbrellas into people’s drinks without them seeing.

I like the approach with this campaign. Still it seems that drug rape is not as common as we thought. The UK Association of Chief Police Officers conducted a study that concluded many victims of sexual assault may have just been very drunk. Of 120 cases from November 2004 to October 2005, it said 12 were suspected drug-assisted assaults — but none was linked to the much talked about date-rape drug Rohypnol. The findings also revealed 119 of the 120 alleged victims admitted they had been drinking alcohol and forensic tests discovered evidence of alcohol in 52% of cases.

“In most cases, the alleged victims had consumed alcohol voluntarily and, in some cases, to dangerous levels,” an Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) spokesman said.

And Det Ch Supt Dave Gee, co-author of the report, told BBC Radio that 48% of victims admitted they had taken a combination of recreational drugs and prescribed medication in addition to alcohol. He said this “cocktail” of substances is likely to “debilitate” people.

Some have criticized the report saying it’s just another way to put the blame on the victims of sexual assault. Feminist writer Julie Bindel has said about the subject, “Alcohol has undoubtedly become the new short skirt in the way that people are looking to put the blame and the onus and the responsibility on women.”

Though rape is never the victim’s fault, we live in a world with a few dangerous people amongst us and in such a world we have a responsibility to take some reasonable precautions to protect ourselves. You wouldn’t take a vacation in Afganistan right now. Why would you go to a public bar and drink so much you can’t look out for yourself?

A recent article from BBC News agrees. The article was titled Should Women Be More Responsible? and it received a lot of criticism.

A study which reveals many sexually assaulted women may have had too much to drink rather than been drugged has sparked a debate over how much the victims themselves are to blame.

Some commentators say they have watched with alarm the growing number of young women drinking to excess in bars and clubs across the UK.

And it is argued that these women are behaving irresponsibly and putting themselves at risk of being sexually assaulted or raped.

Tory MP Ann Widdecombe is quoted in the article as saying “I think a lot of women say ‘he must have drugged me’ when what they really mean to say is ‘I got so drunk I can’t remember what really happened’.

“I have seen city centres on Friday and Saturday nights and if I had a daughter they are not places I would want her to be….

“You can’t always ask ‘what can be done?’ Is government responsible for people’s actions?”

No government can protect its citizens from every lurking danger which is all the more reason to take some responsibility for our own safety. Some may read this as moralizing against women drinking. But really it’s just practical advice. And it’s advice everyone is better off following, men and women alike.