Nearly four years have passed, but Himachal Pradesh has still not recovered  from the shock and agony felt at the time of a most terrible rape and murder of a 16 year girl, called Gudiya by the media, while she was returning from a school and had to also pass a small stretch of forest on her way to home. The shock of those days was recalled on April 28 when, after a long investigation, which had several twists, a tree-cutter named Nillu was found guilty of murder and rape. What became evident in the course of investigation was that he had been drinking around the time the terrible crime  was committed, the liquor bottle was also found near the dead body. It also became clear that he  was a habitual drinker who was also involved in other molestation incidents around the same time.

In fact if we trace the circumstances in which some of the most terrible sexual crimes were committed in recent times, in quite a significant number of these crimes the fact of the perpetrator of the  crime being under the influence of liquor would be noted. This is not just incidental, the close linkage between alcohol /substance abuse and sexual  crimes has been repeatedly confirmed by several studies in various countries.

However several studies are from western countries where the context in an important respect is different  from  developing countries like India. This difference is that in most parts of India particularly villages liquor  consumption by women is very less or negligible. While many western studies reveal that both the perpetrator and the victim had been drinking in a significant number of cases, this would not apply to most parts of India and many other developing countries where the social situation is similar to India.

The World Report on Violence and Health (WRVH) says that alcohol abuse is  an important factor in sexual violence.The WRVH says that both from the perspective of the assaulter and the victim, alcohol and drug consumption increases the risk of sexual violence, including rape. In the context of the victim this report says that consuming alcohol or drugs makes it more difficult for women to protect themselves “by interpreting and effectively acting on warning signs.” In the context of the assaulter this report says that alcohol has been shown to play a disinhibiting role in certain types of sexual assault.

According to a widely cited paper on ‘alcohol and sexual assaults’ by Antonia Abbey, Tina Zawacki and others of the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (USA), “ at least one half of all violent crimes involved alcohol consumption by the perpetrator, the victim or both. Sexual violence fits this pattern. Thus across disparate population studies, researchers consistently have found that approximately one half of all sexual assaults are committed by men who have been drinking alcohol. Depending on the sample studied and the measure used, the estimates for alcohol use among perpetrators have ranged from 34 to 74 percent. Similarly, approximately one third of all sexual assault victims report that they were drinking alcohol at the time of assault with estimates ranging from 30 to 39 per cent. However, these researchers also point out that while a woman’s alcohol consumption may place her at increased risk of sexual assault, she is in no way responsible for the assault. The researchers rightly say that the perpetrators remain legally and morally responsible for their behavior.

According to a  report from the National Task Force on College Drinking (USA), 1400 college students die each year in alcohol related accidents, 5, 000,00 are injured and there are 70, 000 victims of alcohol related sexual assault or date rape. A study by Tests and Livingston  mentioned women’s narrative description of incapacitated rape which indicates that many were unconscious and found out later that they were raped, or else were only dimly aware of what was happening and so were unable to stop the assailant.

Hence there is much more need for drawing attention to alcohol and substance abuse related factors in the overall many-sided efforts to reduce sexual crimes as much as possible.

Bharat Dogra is a journalist and author. His recent books include Man Over Machine and Planet in Peril.


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