This editorial discusses sexual assault and may be triggering for some readers. The Journal uses “survivor” to refer to those who have experienced sexual assault. We acknowledge this term is not universal.
Ontario’s recent decision to allow extreme intoxication as a legal defence of sexual assault threatens the physical and mental safety of every person in the province.
In August, Ontario Superior Court Justice Nancy Spies ruled that a man who voluntarily took a date-rape drug may use his impairment to defend his rape of a woman unconscious from alcohol intoxication. To win his case, the man must prove he was intoxicated to the point of automatism—a state in which a person is unaware of their actions.
The opportunity for a perpetrator to defend sexual assault with voluntary intoxication continues the social policing of women’s bodies when faced with targeted violence.
While all genders suffer from sexual violence, 99 per cent of sexual assault perpetrators in Canada are men. That said, every person’s safety is at risk when intoxication defends harm.
When a drunk driver kills someone unintentionally, they might still be charged with manslaughter and negligence. Intoxicated sexual assault perpetrators similarly cause trauma but don’t face the same responsibility.
When voluntary intoxication causes trauma or fatality, it should be legally recognized as criminal. Whenever sexual assault is discussed under this umbrella, it’s treated politically rather than as a universal social problem.
This intoxication defence expands the grey area for perpetrators to be acquitted of consequence. It also diminishes the already-tenuous capacity for sexual assault survivors to receive institutional recognition.
Importantly, this decision accepts the paradox that intoxication limits the ability to consent, yet also limits responsibility.
The voluntary decision to intoxicate yourself should not protect you from consequence for your violent actions. The harm you cause is your responsibility.
A legal acceptance of perpetrator intoxication invalidates the severity of assault’s impact on survivors.
Even after a survivor navigates the complicated web of police investigation, this proves that further procedural issues halt progress in the judicial system. It indicates the wide misunderstanding of the physical and mental consequences of sexual violence.
Ontario’s acceptance of voluntary intoxication not only makes it harder for survivors to deal with their trauma. It makes it harder for society and the criminal justice system to recognize sexual assault as a systemic problem, regardless of inebriation.
Within Queen’s rampant drinking culture, this ruling threatens every student with the knowledge that the law may not validate assault if the abuser drinks too much. It sets a dangerous precedent for an often-private act with no bystanders present to corroborate the survivor’s story or the intoxication of any party.
The extreme intoxication defence for sexual assault marks social regression. It takes fundamental rights from the survivor and gives them to the abuser.
—Journal Editorial Board
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