Effects of alcohol on memory while providing testimony explored by University of Leicester researchers

Posted by ap507 at Aug 02, 2017 09:20 AM |
Recent event saw experts discuss issues surrounding testimony given following sexual assaults while intoxicated

Issued by University of Leicester Press Office 2 August 2017

Leading research into the effects of alcohol on memory and guidance on how police officers can interview rape complainants who were intoxicated at the time of assault was presented last month by experts from the University of Leicester.

During the event, which was held at Leicestershire Police HQ and funded by the British Academy, leading experts from the Universities of Leicester and Birmingham were joined by a range of practitioners to present on the topic and to provide expert advice.

Dr Anna Carline from the University of Leicester’s School of Law said: “Research indicates that acute intoxication can reduce a victim’s capacity to encode and consolidate memories about the event. Consequently, rape complainants who were intoxicated compared to sober during the crime will tend to provide less information overall.

“However, research also indicates that victims who were acutely intoxicated during sexual assault can provide forensically relevant testimony. In particular, although intoxicated complainants will provide less information overall, the testimony they provide is no less accurate compared to sober complainants.”

Dr Heather Flowe from the University of Birmingham said: “The results indicate that investigators should conduct interviews with intoxicated complainants, focusing on procedures that help support the victim during the investigative interview, and areas in which the complainant is capable of providing accurate testimony.”

A substantial number of women are sexually victimised each year in the UK. Many of these attacks occur whilst the victim is under the influence of alcohol, and these cases can present challenges when prosecuting.

Victim intoxication raises issues regarding the accuracy of testimony. What is more, currently there are no national guidelines regarding how victims who were intoxicated at the time of the assault should be interviewed by criminal investigators. Recently, research on the effects of alcohol on memory is beginning to accumulate.

The event drew upon the findings of a two-year British Academy funded project, which explored when the interview should be conducted, the types of questions that should be asked and the types of information that the victim may be able to remember.

The project brought together researchers and people who work with victims in the public (including the Police and the Crown Prosecution Service) and voluntary sectors to discuss these issues and to, ultimately, develop evidence based guidance for practice.

The event included reflections upon the research findings from a range of practitioners, including:

  • Professor Graham Davies, University of Leicester
  • HHJ Nicholas Dean QC
  • Lawrence English, Senior Senior District Crown Prosecutor, Head of Rape and Serious Sexual Offences Team, CPS East Midlands
  • Michelle Keen, DI, Signal Team, Leicestershire Police
  • Mary Prior QC
  • Dr Kevin Smith, National Vulnerable Witness Adviser
  • Dr Jessica Woodhams, University of Birmingham

Further details of the workshop can be found here:  https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/interviewing-intoxicated-complainants-new-evidence-for-practice-tickets-34037979513  


Notes to editors:

For more information contact Dr Anna Carline on anna.carline@le.ac.uk


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