Alcohol and interviewing sexual assault complainants

Research Institution / Organisation

University of Birmingham

Principal Researcher

Heather Flowe, PhD

Project Start Date

March 2015

Research Context

​Witnesses and victims of violent crime are often under the influence of alcohol, especially in rape cases. This raises questions about how investigators should conduct interviews in these instances.

This project is translating systematic laboratory research for use in policing. The research shows that while those who were under the influence of alcohol during the crime remember less information than their sober counterparts, the accuracy of the information does not vary in relation to intoxication. This suggests that people who were under the influence of alcohol during encoding can effectively regulate their memory recall during police interviews when interviewed sober.

Research Methodology

​Women were randomly assigned to consume alcohol or a placebo, and then underwent a simulated sexual assault. Up to four months later, they were interviewed about what they could remember. Along with the Leicestershire Police and CPS, the researcher is translating this work to develop policy about how to interview intoxicated witnesses and victims, particularly in rape cases.

Interim reports and publications

Colloff, M. F., & Flowe, H. D. (2016). The effects of acute alcohol intoxication on the cognitive mechanisms underlying false facial recognition. Psychopharmacology, 233, 2139–2149.

Flowe, H., Carline, A., Takarangi, M., Humphries, J., French, S., & Prior, M. (2015). Sexual violence and complainant intoxication. Criminal Justice & Law Weekly, 179 (34).

Heather D. Flowe, Melanie K. T. Takarangi, Joyce E. Humphries & Deborah S. Wright (2016) Alcohol and remembering a hypothetical sexual assault: Can people who were under the influence of alcohol during the event provide accurate testimony?, Memory, 24:8, 1042-1061   

Heather D Flowe et al: The Effects of Alcohol Intoxication on Accuracy and the Confidence–Accuracy Relationship in Photographic Simultaneous Line-ups; Volume 31, Issue 4 July/August 2017; Pages 379-391

Date due for completion

August 2020
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