Emily Yoffe, best known for her "Dear Prudence" advice column at Slate, has become the latest kneejerk cultural commentator to lay the blame for sexual violence on college campuses at the feet of victims, despite her insistence that's not what she's doing: "Let's be totally clear: Perpetrators are the ones responsible for committing their crimes, and they should be brought to justice. But we are failing to let women know that when they render themselves defenseless, terrible things can be done to them."
Yoffe wants every young college woman to know that while they aren't responsible for their rape, they should feel guilty for allowing it to happen in an easier fashion by drinking.
And though I'm certain Yoffe would adamantly deny she intends to make women who have been raped feel guilty if alcohol was involved, that's exactly what's she doing.
She has joined what I like to call the national "Don't Drink and Vagina" campaign, composed of persons in authority (or whom attempt to speak with authority) who seriously believe the answer to stopping rape and other sexual violence against women is by encouraging women to alter their behavior. Unlike its inspiration, the successful "Don't Drink and Drive" movement, "Don't Drink and Vagina" is condescending and uninformed advice vomit that has little to no basis in critical thinking.
Proponents of the DDAV approach share two common traits: 1) They are woefully inadequate in their research on rape culture and 2) they want an easy solution that shirks as much responsibility as possible on the part of those in authority or anyone who could help in combating rape culture (that would be everyone).
First, let's get a few things straight: 2/3 of rapes are committed by someone the victim knows. That jumps to 3/4 when discussing sexual assault. Further, depending on which study you're reading, between 40 and 50 percent of rapes annually occur in the victim's residence.
Generously assuming both those factors completely overlap, this would mean Yoffe's "don't get drunk, don't get raped" approach would include the 66 percent of victims who are supposed to feel safe enough to drink in front of someone they trust, most of those whom they trust in their home.
And yet, although Yoffe acknowledges that men who commit rape and sexual are often drunk, as well (and which Ann Friedman satirically wrote about in response to Yoffe), the bulk of her criticism is directed at women, except for this wonderful little gem:
"If I had a son, I would tell him that it's in his self-interest not to be the drunken frat boy who finds himself accused of raping a drunken classmate. Surely this University of Richmond student, acquitted in one of the extremely rare cases in which a campus rape accusation led to a criminal trial, would confirm that."
Finds himself accused? It makes it sound as though college male rapists just happen across rape as surprisingly as one might get a jury duty notice in the mail.
It makes it sound as though these rapists weren't aware that what they were doing was wrong when they did it.
It makes it sound as though they are not ultimately guilty, and let's blame alcohol because that's a hell of a lot easier than admitting personal complicity in a culture that steadfastly refuses to acknowledge how our objectification of women and lack of educating young people about rape and consent makes it easier for women to be raped, sexually assaulted, and sexually harassed.
But here's what really pisses me off: that "it's not in his self-interest" because as we all know, any article on rape should point out how badly a man accused of rape could be damaged rather than... oh, I don't know... maybe emphasizing that respecting personal boundaries of women and acknowledging enthusiastic consent before proceeding should be key here?
I really don't know what to make of Yoffe's article in terms of motivation. It's written so brazenly that I can't help but think she felt it would be perceived as a "brave" piece, a woman writing an article on rape that points out how women are responsible for their rapes.
But it's not brave; it's poorly researched and only encourages this cowardice on the part of our society to take a hard look in the mirror and accept responsibility for not stopping rape at the source: rapists.
If a woman gets drunk, loses her purse/wallet, throws up all over herself, passes out on the sidewalk, generally acts like a moron (and many of us have had those nights)... she can deal with the fallout from that in the morning. That's on her.
That STILL does not mean her drinking gets pinpointed as the solution to rape. What is too drunk? Should women stop drinking altogether? Should we have a blood alcohol limit which women can't exceed?
What do we do about the woman the rapist moves onto who does get drunk?
Most importantly: Why do we continue to address rape victims but not rapists? Rape and sexual assault are the only violent crimes in which we immediately propose what the victim could have done to prevent them, despite the overwhelming statistics that show there is truly little control over when and where and how a woman gets raped.
If Yoffe wants plaudits for social commentary, maybe she would do well to address that.
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