Drunk at Duke
By now we all know that an African-American women, hired to strip at a Duke men’s lacrosse party, has accused three white players of kidnapping, strangling, and raping her on May 14, 2006. The Durham district attorney recently secured two indictments in the case, and indicated that a third may be forthcoming. The case is troubling for many reasons. I’ll probably write about a couple of different aspects of the case over the next week, but today I’d like to focus on the issue of alcohol. I’m particularly interested in how intoxication—of the men and the woman on the night in question—will be interpreted.
The initial description of the Duke case included the allegation that the players had already been drinking at the party before the dancers arrived. They may not have been the only ones. On April 10, defense attorney Bill Thomas said that time-stamped photographs would prove that the woman was already drunk herself upon coming to the party. To explain her injuries, Thomas said, “This young lady was substantially impaired. She had fallen several times during the course of the evening.”
How will intoxication of the parties affect an assessment of blame? Studies on the issue are fascinating. In a 1982 study (Richardson & Campbell, The Effect of Alcohol on Attributions of Blame for Rape, 8 Per. Soc. Psychol. Bull. 468 (1982)), participants read a story about a college student raped at a party. Some students read a story in which the attacker was drunk and some read a story in which the victim was drunk. The male attacker was held less responsible for the rape when he was intoxicated than when he was sober. By contrast, the female victim was held more responsible when she was intoxicated than when she was sober.
In a 1997 study (Stormo et al., Attributions about Acquaintance Rape: The Role of Alcohol and Individual Differences, 27 J. Applied Soc. Psychol. 279 (1997)), participants assessed rape scenarios involving two college students who meet at an off-campus party. Students read stories that varied the level of alcohol consumption by the perpetrator and victim. The study indicated:
Results of the present investigation support and extend previous research indicating that intoxicated behavior differentially influences the degree to which responsibility and blame are attributed to the victim and perpetrator depicted in a rape scenario. Whereas the bottle may grant a pardon to the perpetrator, it tends to hold greater blame for the victim.
The study continued, “When portrayed as moderately or highly intoxicated, the victim was assigned significantly more responsibility/blame and the perpetrator significantly less.” It noted, “At the same time, perpetrators were held less responsible and blamed less when portrayed as moderately or highly intoxicated.”
Hence, his inebriation tends to taint her and exonerate him. Likewise, her inebriation tends to taint her and exonerate him. Boys will be boys. Girls had better not be drunken sluts.
The double standard has an exception, however. The 1997 study indicated that, if the victim was perceived as more inebriated than the perpetrator, he was perceived to be more blameworthy. “This suggests,” researchers wrote, that participants “placed additional blame on the perpetrator when he seemed to be taking advantage of someone more incapacitated than he.”
There is now an allegation that the Duke players may have slipped a date rape during into the accuser’s drink. Apparently the woman’s demeanor changed dramatically during the party, and she was “just passed out drunk” when the police found her. If proven, these facts will be crucial to the case.