Rape victims remember key details even after drinking, study says

The study suggested that police and prosecutors could secure convictions based on recollections of intoxicated victims

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Women who have been raped after a night of drinking are just as likely to remember key details about their attackers as victims who were sober, a study has found.

The study – which has potential ramifications for the way police investigate sexual attacks – suggested that police and prosecutors could secure convictions based on recollections of intoxicated victims.

Groups representing victims say police, prosecutors and juries dismiss testimonies of women attacked after drinking because they are believed to be unreliable witnesses, allowing rapists to go free.

But the study of 88 women aged 18 to 31 by academics at Leicester University indicated that while victims were more likely to forget peripheral details, they accurately recalled key features such as the name of their attacker, their car, and their hobbies.

 

Detective Inspector Reme Gibson, from Leicestershire Police’s rape investigation unit, said: “It has been a long-held misconception that victims and witnesses who are intoxicated are not able to give as good an account as they would when they are sober.

“I hope these findings better support future investigations, particularly in the sexual violence area, which is already often complex and not without challenges.”

Sex cases have long been among the hardest to prosecute in the criminal justice system. Director of Public Prosecutions Alison Saunders introduced measures last year to improve rape convictions. Of the 3,900 rape cases that were taken to court in 2013-14, 60 per cent resulted in convictions.

The policing inspectorate also found last year that some forces dropped a third of their rape investigations. Of the 43 forces surveyed, Leicestershire had the second highest rate of recording reported rapes as “no crimes”, according to the report.

In the Leicester University study, published in the journal Memory, some of the women were given vodka and tonic and breathalysed before going through a role play involving a sexual attack based on cases in Leicestershire police’s files.

The women were given 25 key pieces of information, and nine peripheral items over an average of four hours before they were questioned about what happened 24 hours and four months later.

Results showed that the women who had been drinking were less likely to remember details such as the name of the song playing in the background or the colour of a sofa, but were just as likely to remember accurately the attacker’s appearance, or what happened during the assault.