Use of Alcohol and Other Drugs

The use of alcohol and other drugs can have unintended consequences. Alcohol and other drugs can lower inhibitions and create an atmosphere of confusion over whether consent is freely and affirmatively given. Alcohol and/or drugs can impact an individual’s decision-making capacity, awareness of consequences, and ability to give informed consent. The use of alcohol or drugs never makes an individual at fault for sexual misconduct committed against an individual. The question is whether an accused individual knew, or should have known, that the complaining individual was incapacitated due to alcohol and/or drugs and therefore unable to give consent to engage in sexual activity. Because determining whether an individual is incapacitated so as to be unable to give effective consent may be difficult to discern, individuals are strongly encouraged to err on the side of caution (i.e., when in doubt, assume that another person is incapacitated and therefore unable to consent). Being intoxicated or impaired by alcohol or drugs is never a defense to a complaint of sexual violence.

In Evaluating Incapacitation
For purposes of evaluating effective consent, the Institute considers two questions: (1) Did the person initiating sexual activity know that their partner was incapacitated? and if not, (2) Should a sober, reasonable person in the same situation have known that their partner was incapacitated? If the answer to either of these questions is “yes,” effective consent was absent.

For purposes of this policy, incapacitation is a state beyond drunkenness or intoxication. A person is not incapacitated merely because they have been drinking or using drugs.

The standard for incapacitation does not turn on technical or medical definitions, but instead focuses on whether a person has the physical and/or mental ability to make informed, rational judgments and decisions. A person who initiates sexual activity must look for the common and obvious warning signs that show that a person may be incapacitated or approaching incapacitation. Although every individual may manifest signs of incapacitation differently, typical signs include slurred or incomprehensible speech, unsteady gait, combativeness, emotional volatility, vomiting, or incontinence. A person who is incapacitated may not be able to understand some or all of the following questions: “Do you know where you are?”, “Do you know how you got here?”, “Do you know what is happening?”, “Do you know whom you are with?”.

Because the impact of alcohol and other drugs varies from person to person, one should be cautious before engaging in sexual contact or intercourse when either party has been drinking alcohol or using other drugs. The introduction of alcohol or other drugs may create ambiguity for either party as to whether effective consent has been sought or given. If one has doubt about either party’s level of intoxication, the safe thing to do is to forgo all sexual activity.

Good Samaritan Amnesty Policy

In a situation where students seek medical attention for an alcohol or prohibited substance-related medical emergency, MIT will treat the students’ use of alcohol or prohibited substances as a health and safety matter, not as a disciplinary incident. This policy, which is intended to reduce barriers to getting help, will be extended not only to the student receiving medical attention, but also to the student(s) who call for help. In addition, to encourage reporting and seeking help, this policy will be extended to any students who report in good faith that they witnessed or are the victim of a crime or a significant violation of MIT policy (e.g., sexual misconduct, hazing) even though they may have been under the influence of alcohol or prohibited substances at the time of the incident.

Click here for the full text of the Good Samaritan Amnesty Policy.

Click here for a flowchart illustrating situations covered by the Good Samaritan Amnesty Policy.