Effects of alcohol on memory while providing testimony explored by Leicester researchers

Leading research into the effects of alcohol on memory and guidance on how police officers can interview rape complainants who were intoxicated at the time of assault was presented last month by experts from our University.

During the event, which was held at Leicestershire Police HQ and funded by the British Academy, leading experts from the Universities of Leicester and Birmingham were joined by a range of practitioners to present on the topic and to provide expert advice.

Dr Anna Carline from the School of Law said: “Research indicates that acute intoxication can reduce a victim’s capacity to encode and consolidate memories about the event. Consequently, rape complainants who were intoxicated compared to sober during the crime will tend to provide less information overall.

“However, research also indicates that victims who were acutely intoxicated during sexual assault can provide forensically relevant testimony. In particular, although intoxicated complainants will provide less information overall, the testimony they provide is no less accurate compared to sober complainants.”

A substantial number of women are sexually victimised each year in the UK. Many of these attacks occur whilst the victim is under the influence of alcohol, and these cases can present challenges when prosecuting.

Victim intoxication raises issues regarding the accuracy of testimony. What is more, currently there are no national guidelines regarding how victims who were intoxicated at the time of the assault should be interviewed by criminal investigators. Recently, research on the effects of alcohol on memory is beginning to accumulate.

The event drew upon the findings of a two-year British Academy funded project, which explored when the interview should be conducted, the types of questions that should be asked and the types of information that the victim may be able to remember.