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Alcohol, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Assault

Alcohol harm is experienced not only by drinkers but by those around them including families, friends, colleagues and strangers. There is a strong relationship between alcohol and domestic abuse, violence and sexual assault. Whilst alcohol should not be used as an excuse for those who perpetrate violence and abuse, neither should its influence be ignored. This report outlines the evidence on the relationship between alcohol, domestic abuse and sexual assault and makes recommendations for tackling the problem in the UK.

Domestic abuse includes both physical violence and emotional, sexual, psychological or financial behaviour between intimate partners or family members which is controlling, coercive or threatening. It can occur as an isolated incident, but is often found as a pattern of abuse and is estimated to cost the UK nearly £16 billion a year. The Home Office introduced a new definition of domestic violence encompassing all of these elements in February 2013 but this has not been universally adopted, meaning that some research and statistics on domestic abuse, for example, are not always directly comparable.

Research typically finds that between 25% and 50% of those who perpetrate domestic abuse have been drinking at the time of assault, although in some studies the figure is as high as 73%. However, cases involving severe violence are twice as likely as others to include alcohol, and other research found that the risk of rape was twice as high for attacks involving drinking offenders.

People are most likely to be sexually assaulted or raped by someone known to them, and around half of domestic abuse cases involve sexual violence. Rape and sexual assault does, however, also occur outside of family and intimate relationships. Whilst this report deals primarily with domestic abuse, using the more expansive definition above, it also includes information on sexual assault and rape where alcohol plays a similar role in the two scenarios.