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Substance use and sexual abuse

Substance use and sexual abuse The use of alcohol or drugs as a disinhibitor has also received attention, and a number of studies have found evidence of alcohol use in perpetrators. In an early review, Araji and Finkelhor (1986) concluded, “alcohol plays a role in the commission of offenses by some groups of sex abusers” (p. 116). Later reviews conclude the same. Herman (1990), for example, found that as many as 25% to 50% of sex offenders (not specifically child molesters) were alcohol abusers. She suggested caution in the interpretation of these figures, however, citing a study by Vaillant (1983) in which 11% to 60% of working-class men could be classified as alcohol abusers, depending upon the definition employed. This author’s case-by-case analysis of unidentified offenders in Russell’s (1983) community prevalence study also suggested that although alcohol or drug use was present in some of the cases, it was either incidental to the abuse itself or was used as a weapon against the victim. For example, once incapacitated, the victim was then raped. These reviews suggest that a substantial minority of offenders are probably substance users, although fewer offenders use substances during the commission of the crimes. Herman (1990) concludes: The role of alcohol can probably best be understood as a facilitating one; intoxication may serve as an aid to overcoming inhibitions in those already predisposed to commit sexual assaults, while those who have no desire will not do so—drunk or sober. (p. 185) Williams and Finkelhor (1990) also conclude in their review of incest offenders: Alcohol and drug abuse are related to so many social problems that it obviously belongs among any listing of correlates of incestuous abuse. On the other hand, many believe that its popularity as an explanatory factor stems primarily from the fact that offenders so often invoke it themselves to minimize the opprobrium directed toward their crime. (p. 247) Clearly, some perpetrators looking to excuse their behavior may conclude that they were less responsible for their acts because they were under the influence of the substance. The findings from Russell’s data, however, suggest another conceptualization of substance abuse—as a weapon.

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