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How does Alcohol Impact Consent?

Most cases of sexual assault at Penn State involve drug or alcohol use by one or both of the people involved. At Penn State, like most other college campuses, alcohol is the most commonly used substance in drug-facilitated sexual assault.

TIP: If you see your friend leaving a party with someone, check to see if they are OK. If your friend seems out of it, then have them leave the party with you. Walk your friend home.

What Is Consent?

At the heart of consent is the idea that every person has the right to determine whether or not they engage in sexual activity. Consent is all about respect for your partner and honoring their boundaries. Consent exists when there is clear, knowing, and voluntary agreement to engage in mutually agreed-upon sexual activity. 

Elements of Consent

Consent must be mutual and informed. Partners involved should be aware of boundaries and agree on them (for example, using protection/contraception, how far you are going to go, etc.). 

Silence is not consent. Silence can mean a number of things such as fear of saying no or fear of how your partner will react if they say no. Silence could also be the result of a partner being asleep or passed out.  

The person giving consent is not incapacitated (sleep, drugs, alcohol). Incapacitation is beyond the point of intoxication in which the individual may have trouble standing, is throwing up, or is passed out. Alcohol impairs our judgment and causes us to be unable to make decisions freely. It is best to not engage in sexual activity if alcohol or drugs have been consumed, given everyone’s limits are different.  

Consent is an ongoing process throughout a sexual encounter. Consent should be obtained every step of the way, and someone can withdraw consent at any time if things cross their boundaries or if they are uncomfortable or no longer interested in sexual activity.  

Consent must be freely given. Partners should not feel forced, pressured, or like they owe sex to someone else, even a dating partner.  Partners should not be scared, pressured, or manipulated into having sex (for example, “I will break up with you/hurt myself/out you if we do not have sex”).  

Use the acronym “FRIES” to help you remember the elements of consent:  

  • Freely given 
  • Reversible  
  • Informed  
  • Enthusiastic  
  • Specific 

Why is Alcohol So Common In Sexual Assault?

Alcohol is the most common “date rape” drug due to how easily accessible and normalized it is in society. Perpetrators often use alcohol to compromise an individual’s ability to consent to sexual activity. Alcohol inhibits a person’s ability to give consent, understand what is occurring, and can affect your memory.  

Survivors of sexual assault often blame themselves, but it is never their fault. It is always the fault of the perpetrator, who chooses to take advantage of another person. 

Fact: An individual who is incapacitated due to alcohol or drug consumption or who is asleep or unconscious cannot give consent to engage in sexual activity.

Immediate Assitance

If you or anyone else is in immediate danger, call 911 or the University Police (814-863-1111) immediately. You can also go to the Mount Nittany Medical Center Emergency Department or your nearest Emergency Department. 

The Gender Equity Center can provide support Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. 5:00 p.m. Call them at 814-863-2027. 

Centre Safe  can provide support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week through their hotline at 1-877-234-5050. 

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Alcohol and Consent


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