By now we all know that an African-American women, hired to strip at a Duke men’s lacrosse party, has accused three white players of kidnapping, strangling, and raping her on May 14, 2006. The Durham district attorney recently secured two indictments in the case, and indicated that a third may be forthcoming. The case is troubling for many reasons. I’ll probably write about a couple of different aspects of the case over the next week, but today I’d like to focus on the issue of alcohol. I’m particularly interested in how intoxication—of the men and the woman on the night in question—will be interpreted.
The initial description of the Duke case included the allegation that the players had already been drinking at the party before the dancers arrived. They may not have been the only ones. On April 10, defense attorney Bill Thomas said that time-stamped photographs would prove that the woman was already drunk herself upon coming to the party. To explain her injuries, Thomas said, “This young lady was substantially impaired. She had fallen several times during the course of the evening.”
How will intoxication of the parties affect an assessment of blame? Studies on the issue are fascinating. In a 1982 study (Richardson & Campbell, The Effect of Alcohol on Attributions of Blame for Rape, 8 Per. Soc. Psychol. Bull. 468 (1982)), participants read a story about a college student raped at a party. Some students read a story in which the attacker was drunk and some read a story in which the victim was drunk. The male attacker was held less responsible for the rape when he was intoxicated than when he was sober. By contrast, the female victim was held more responsible when she was intoxicated than when she was sober.