Study finds accuracy of sexual assault testimonies is not affected by alcohol intoxication

People are often concerned about the accuracy of testimony given by victims who were intoxicated during a sexual assault – but a new study by Leicester researchers has found that while alcohol intoxicated participants report fewer pieces of information about an assault, the information that they do provide is just as accurate as sober participants.

The research, which is led by Dr Heather Flowe (pictured) from the Department of Neuroscience, Psychology and Behaviour, suggests that victims of sexual assault who were intoxicated during the crime could therefore still be interviewed by the police when sober as the accuracy of their testimony is unaffected.

The paper entitled ‘Alcohol and remembering a hypothetical sexual assault: Can people who were under the influence of alcohol during the event provide accurate testimony?’, published in the journal Memory, is one of the first studies to use a placebo controlled trial that investigates the effects of alcohol on memory within the context of sexual assault.

While participants reported less information if they were under the influence of alcohol than those who were not, the accuracy of the information intoxicated participants reported did not differ compared to sober participants, suggesting intoxicated participants could accurately retain information from the event as well as those who were sober.

Dr Flowe added: “It’s fantastic to see the University of Leicester and the Police leading on this important topic. We are working to improve the quality of how testimony is gathered from victims.”

Together with the Crown Prosecution Service and Leicestershire Police, the research findings are being applied to develop National Guidelines regarding how the police should interview sexual assault victims who were intoxicated during the crime. 

The team working on the guidelines also includes Leicester researchers Dr Anna Carline (School of Law), Dr Clare Gunby (Department of Criminology), Professor Graham Davies (School of Psychology), Professor Mandy Burton (School of Law), and Professor Vanessa Munro (School of Law).