Substance Abuse And Sexual Harassment: The Surprising Link


While the Me Too movement has started a national conversation about sexual harassment, spurned on by accusations against powerful men in various industries who allegedly used their power to coerce or intimidate women into sexual favors, one aspect of this crime that is often overlooked is the role that mind-altering substances play. Drugs and alcohol often play a role in sexual harassment and sexual assault, according to new research reported by Florida rehabilitation clinic The Florida House Experience. The results of this combination range from the abuser merely pressuring the would-be victim for sexual favors in exchange for drugs or alcohol, to date rape, and everything in between.

Almost Half Of All Women Report Being Pressured For Sex In Exchange For Alcohol Or Drugs

It seems that plying – or attempting to ply – a woman with drugs or alcohol is an exceptionally prevalent means of sexual harassment. Forty-eight percent of women surveyed answered “yes” when asked if they had ever been pressured for sexual favors in exchange for drugs or alcohol, while 52 percent answered “no.”

It seems that older women, perhaps surprisingly, are most at risk. Fifty-five percent of women 45-years-old and older report being sexually harassed in this way. Perhaps not surprisingly, the 25-34 age group finds the second-highest number of women reporting being sexually harassed in this way, with 53 percent answering “yes.”

sexual abuse and sexual harassment have a strong link
Featured image credit: The Florida House Experience

Bars And The Role Of Alcohol

Alcohol may be the most common tool used by sexual harassers seeking to alter the minds of their victims. After all, it’s legal, readily available, and in fact, basically expected in this culture that men will buy women drinks at bars.

However, buying a woman a drink does not give license to commit sexual assault. Despite this, more than 40 percent of women report that they have been out drinking and received unwanted physical contact from another person. Nearly 20 percent said they’d experienced verbal harassment of a sexual nature at bars.

Meanwhile, sexual harassers, often sober themselves, view intoxicated women as “easy targets,” claims the new research.

Other Drugs

Alcohol is the most commonly used substance offered in exchange for sexual favors or otherwise used to attempt to facilitate sexual harassment. However, it is not the only such substance. Women also report being sexually harassed after being offered (or given) marijuana, cocaine, heroin or opiates, and other substances.

Who Are The Abusers?

As it turns out, strangers in a bar are the most likely people to attempt to use substances in sexual harassment. Forty-one percent of the abusers were identified by poll respondents as someone the victim didn’t know; 34 percent were identified as an acquaintance; 11 percent a husband, boyfriend, or domestic partner; 10 percent a coworker; and 4 percent “other.”

The Need To End The Silence

Sadly, most women who are victims of sexual harassment while under the influence of drugs or alcohol don’t report it, perhaps out of shame. Others wanted to keep their own substance use hidden. Still, others didn’t want to be seen as victims.

However, the writers of this study note that the silence must be stopped in order to protect further women from sexual harassment. And if the Me Too movement has accomplished anything, it’s brought this issue into the national conversation and removed at least some of the stigma of being a victim of sexual harassment.