You don’t have to be such a jerk about rape

I feel odd writing about this.

On Tuesday, Emily Yoffe at Slate wrote an article suggesting college girls shouldn’t drink so much if they don’t want to get raped. I’m sure it got a lot of hits, which was probably the point. As usual, it got a lot of people annoyed. And the people getting annoyed got a lot of different people annoyed. Then we all end up exactly at the same place every goddamn time.

As Erin Gloria Ryan at Jezebel pointed out, Yoffe has the stats on her side when she points out 80% of the campus sexual assaults involve alcohol. Judging from my own college experience, 80% of everything else on campus involves alcohol too.

They are soooo drunk right now

They are soooo drunk right now

(Ryan has a lot of other issues with Yoffe’s article that I’m not going to get into.)

But the alcohol thing is a valid point — I’m sure a large number of the people who sober up and realized they were raped probably wish they had not had so much to drink.

Still, Yoffe’s article is not helping.

Imagine you’re a college freshman excited to be invited to your first frat party. You drink enough to either get out of control or to completely pass out. The next morning, you realize you were raped. What happens now?

I think you’re hurt, scared, embarrassed, ashamed, and confused. “How could this have happened to me?” might be something that goes through your mind. Along with “what did I do to deserve this?” and maybe “does this mean I’m a slut?” and undoubtedly other variants of “what’s wrong with me?”

Is “you shouldn’t have gotten so wasted” helpful?

What’s lost in these circular arguments is that sex crimes against women are pretty much the only crimes where the victim’s status is immediately questioned. If someone gets her purse stolen, do we ask if she had been drinking while she had her purse with her? If a woman gets mugged, do we tell her she shouldn’t have been wearing that? Even well-intentioned articles like Yoffe’s often fall into that trap. (And I do think it was well-intentioned, if condescending.) “That poor girl didn’t do enough to protect herself — she should have been taught the dangers of alcohol.”

If anything at all happens to a man, do we ever ask questions like that? “Sir, were you wearing those tight shorts when you had your wallet lifted? Do you think you should have been?” Do we ask men questions like that even if they’ve been raped?

I had a gang tag my garage door a few years ago with spray paint. When I told the policeman about it, he might have been thinking “what a slut” but he didn’t write it in the police report. Lucky me, I guess. But I did rub the nips for him a bit.

He never called

He never called

For the last few years, the Catholic Church has been embarrassed by many high-profile cases of priests raping altar boys and other young boys in their parishes. (I’m being generous — the Church wasn’t nearly embarrassed enough, judging by their reaction.) Do any of you remember thinking “what steps did that kid take to defend himself?” Or “he didn’t tell anyone — maybe he liked it”? Very few of those scared little boys came forward at the time. It was mostly years later, after a priest had done the same to others. Why did they wait? Why do young women not get the same benefit of the doubt?

There is already a problem — most sexual assaults go unreported. As I understand it, there are a lot of reasons for this — the most distressing of which is “what if it was all my fault?”

Yes, the stats are the stats. What are also stats are things like “two-thirds of sexual assaulters are known to the victim” and “38% of rapists are friends or acquaintances.” Letting yourself be vulnerable is risky. But humans can’t be actively on defense all the time. We need to have people we can relax around — we call them “friends.”

Things are bad enough for victims who do report their rapes. Ask the girl in Steubenville. Or Daisy Coleman, formerly of Maryville. Or Rehtaeh Parsons (oh, wait, you can’t). That bullshit is only going to change if more and more people are willing to report their attacks. Maybe giving them another reason to not do so isn’t really the most compassionate approach.

By all means, teach young people about the effects of alcohol. Do your best to prepare them to watch what they’re drinking. But if someone overdoes it, or loses track, or overestimated their tolerance, or didn’t realize how some other medication would interact with alcohol, or didn’t eat enough beforehand, or any of the other uncountable reasons they may get drunker than they intended… maybe we should think twice about encouraging them to blame themselves.

And I do understand Yoffe’s point. Honestly. I know she’s trying to help, and I know her heart is in the right place. The problem with the “do more to prevent your own rape” approach is that it has the same flaws as an abstinence-only sex ed class — a lapse in judgment (either about your own tolerance or about the people you trust) makes the victim an accessory to a crime, and silence becomes the only defense.

2 Comments on “You don’t have to be such a jerk about rape

  1. Actually if someone gets mugged in NYC, one always ask where they were, what time was it and if they were drunk. Odds are good that they were in a bad place, at a bad time and quite likely drunk. Poor choices were probably involved that made them vulnerable to an assault.

    If a man is pick pocketed on the subway, one asks if he had his wallet in the back pocket.

    We should help people avoid being victims of assault. Part of that is helping them realize what made them vulnerable.

  2. Yes but the FUNDAMENTAL issue with rape is not that women get drunk. The problem is that predators take advantage of women. And it’s simply not the same as other criminal situations because such a large proportion of sexual assault happens with someone the person knows. The analogy to going into a bad neighborhood and getting robbed is flawed because a closer analogy is you go into a bad neighborhood with a large group of people who you know and trust and consider friends and one of them steals your wallet and stabs you. And then you’re blamed for being in the bad neighborhood in the first place.

    If someone is robbed or attacked in NY or a guy had his wallet in his back pocket, should the mugger be let off because the person was in the wrong place and should have been more responsible? Would the person be terrified to report the robbery to the police because he thought the cops would mock him or not believe that the robbery even happened?

    That’s what happens with rape. Every. Single. Day.

    So yes, tell your daughter not to drink. But tell your son not to drink too. And explain to him what consent means. That’s the core problem here. This isn’t about Big Bad unknown criminals committing. It’s young men in high school and college who are raised in a culture that says “if you want something from a woman, take it and if she complains, it’s fine because look how she’s dressed and how she’s acting – you can’t be blamed for reading that behavior as she ‘wants it’. And if there’s a question about it, she probably won’t press charges anyway because she knows that she’s going to be put on trial and blamed. And you can’t help it, coz you’re a boy and you have needs. You’re not REALLY to blame.”

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