On Tuesday evening Slate columnist Emily Yoffe decided to give us all a lesson in sexual assault prevention: just tell female college students to stop drinking. Yes, that was truly her suggestion and no, she was not joking.
Yoffe alleges that the common factor in recent high-profile cases of sexual assault was that the young women who were attacked all went to parties, drank alcohol and "end[ed] up being raped." ("As if she tripped," Jessica Valenti wryly tweeted.) According to Yoffe, it is only our "misplaced fear of blaming the victim" and the idea that it's the "right" of young women "to match men drink for drink," that prevents us from telling female college students to stop drinking and protect themselves.
I'd like to think that Yoffe had good intentions (i.e. the prevention of future sexual assaults) when she wrote her column. However, there are several glaring errors that must be noted:
1. Despite her assertions otherwise, Yoffe is, in fact "blaming the victim."
Have we lost so much faith in our male population that instead of publishing columns telling young men to stop raping tipsy women -- or encouraging the expansion of programs on college campuses that work to educate students about such matters and prevent sexual assault -- some of us believe it is most effective to tell women not to drink at all? We need to place the burden of blame for these assaults squarely where it belongs -- on the shoulder of those individuals who choose to commit them.
2. Telling women to stop drinking in college is far from the most effective way to prevent sexual assault.
As The Atlantic's Alexander Abad-Santos points out, telling female college students to avoid binge-drinking in order to avoid being assaulted is akin to "telling people not to drive late at night because they might die at the hands of a drunk driver -- these people aren't breaking the law, yet they're the ones being targeted and asked to compromise their lives." Correlation is not causation. Let's remember that.
3. We should probably be encouraging all humans to stop binge-drinking to the point of blackout -- not just women.
Some of that statistics that Yoffe highlights to beef up her argument focus on the damage that binge-drinking culture does to all college students. She points out that an estimated 600,000 students are injured each year due to alcohol consumption and approximately 1,800 die. Yet her article wasn't titled "College Students: Stop Getting Drunk." Yoffe's message of "personal responsibility" was reserved for women.
Activist and writer Soraya Chemaly pointed out the absurdity of this double standard:
Funny how articles re college, sexual assault & alcohol rarely focus on boys not drinking to avoid higher risk of being jailed for assault.
— Soraya Chemaly (@schemaly) October 16, 2013
4. Men who rape don't "find themselves accused." They choose to commit a serious crime.
While Yoffe says that she tells her nearly-college-aged daughter that "it's her responsibility to take steps to protect herself," her words for her imaginary son are far less strong. "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," she writes.
We live in a world where people live-tweet and Instagram an alleged sexual assault rather than stepping in to stop it, where 54 percent of sexual assaults are not reported to the authorities, and where 97 percent of rapists will not spend even a day incarcerated. There is certainly a culture that needs changing, but scolding college women for drinking beer at a kegger is not the way to do it.
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