Alcohol and Sexual Harassment
Written by John Winer
January 30, 2018
There are situations and environments which make sexual harassment more prevalent. A male-dominated company where women have little to no say in leadership; a college campus where women who are victims of sexual misconduct have no place to report these crimes; a Hollywood production company where powerful executives are never held accountable for their actions; these are just a few of the scenarios the public has heard about since the #metoo movement began.
However, there is a substance that is common in many sexual harassment and sexual assault cases that largely goes undiscussed – alcohol. Several studies have been conducted to show that alcohol significantly increases the odds of a woman being sexually harassed or assaulted. According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, even the most conservative estimates of sexual assault suggest that one in four women in America have experienced sexual assault (which includes rape) and roughly half of those cases involve alcohol consumption by the perpetrator, victim or both.
One study on alcohol use in social settings found more than 75% of women participating in the study had experienced sexual touching or persistence at bars and parties where alcohol was present. In spite of those women using various deterrent strategies (such as direct refusals, friends’ help, etc.) women were still aggressively approached by men consuming some form of alcohol.
Settings such as college campuses, company holiday parties and political conventions all become mine fields for women once the alcohol begins to flow. At UCLA, fraternities were banned from hosting in-house events with alcohol present after an alleged sexual assault occurred. The president of a fraternity there was charged with assault with intent to rape and the university took extreme action to protect women.
A study from Cornell University that examines links between alcohol use and “gender harassment” suggests that sexual harassment prevention policies are less effective in work places where strong and permissive drinking occurs. In Washington, DC this has led to an organization known as “Safe Bars” to train local restaurant and bar staff on how to combat sexual violence both when it is happening to them and when happening to patrons.
The legal industry is no different as studies show that between 21% and 36% of practicing lawyers qualify as “problem drinkers,” making female attorneys and staff susceptible to unwanted sexual attention, touching, harassment and worse.
As a result of alcohol’s role in sexual misconduct, a recent showed that 11% of companies polled did not host holiday parties in 2017 in order to avoid potentially dangerous situations. And there was a 13% drop in the serving of alcohol at the parties which did occur from last year.
For women in the work place, it is difficult enough to be taken seriously without being forced into an environment where alcohol is lowering inhibitions and creating dangerous situations for everyone. More employers should take this opportunity to examine how they hold holiday parties and their HR policies for when alcohol is appropriate for any work-related event. Between the dangers of sexual misconduct and the more obvious dangers of DUIs, alcohol may play an increasingly smaller role in the corporate workplace going forward.