Majority of students don’t think heavy drinking affects ability to give consent

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More than two thirds of students don’t think that drinking the equivalent of an entire bottle of vodka or 14 pints affects their ability to consent to sex according to NUI Galway research.

NUIG’s SMART Consent team published their findings this week as part of a broader study of sexual consent and harassment at colleges.

753 students were surveyed online, and given two different scenarios where two students go home together after a night out drinking.

In one “moderate” version Carol and Neil drink the equivalent of 14 units of alcohol, and a “heavy” drinking version where they drink 28 units each.

Beyond the simple amount they had to drink, the story included lines meant to indicate how drunk the characters were.

In the heavy drinking version when they try to stand, “Neil spilled the tea all over the table and Carol nearly fell off her chair getting up to go to the bathroom.”

After that only 33% of students said that Carol was too drunk to give consent in that scenario, and only 30% felt that way about Neil.

Commenting on the findings of the study, Dr. Pádraig MacNeela, head of the SMART Consent Initiative, said:

“The survey findings show that the social environment in which consent takes place among college students is often unsupportive.”

“Most women experience harassment, a large majority of all students are dissatisfied with their sexual health education at school, and social norms for drinking minimise the true impact of alcohol on the capacity to give consent.”

And while only half of respondents said that they felt the two gave sufficient verbal signs of their consent to sex in either scenario, and two thirds said that they could regret this the next day, 70-80% of students felt that they had overall consented to sex without any pressure.

The report concludes that despite the high amount of alcohol they had consumed and behaviours that people associate with impaired capacity,

“The lack of apparent force or coercion in the scenario seems to have put it into the category of consensual drunk sex, yet the recognition among over half of the students that regret could occur the next day does suggest the potential to raise awareness that capacity to give consent is severely impacted by alcohol consumption.”

The findings of the larger study on sexual consent in colleges ‘Are Consent Workshops Sustainable and Feasible in Third Level Institutions?’ were announced by Minister of State for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor earlier this week.

It conducted surveys an workshops with 3,500 students at four colleges around Ireland covering topics such as sexual harassment, sex education, and whether students had the skills to make informed decisions about their sex lives.

It’s reported that the Minister is now considering making classes on sexual consent mandatory at all colleges.

However in when looking at the findings of the report it should be noted that of the 753 students surveyed online for the study, only 15% of those actually completed it.