In a column posted late Tuesday night at Slate, writer Emily Yoffe argues the key to stopping sexual assault in college is telling women to "stop getting drunk."
So if this female writer would like to suggest telling college women not to get wasted to prevent rape, allow me as a male writer to offer an alternate option: let's tell men not to get drunk as sexual assault prevention.
A recent graduate of the University of Southern California -- one of the schools under investigation for alleged failures handling sexual misconduct -- recounted to Neon Tommy recently how an alcoholic haze "led" him to commit assault.
"She just didn't want to really want to do it -- but I didn't realize that right away," he said, describing how both he and the female student were drunk. "At some point I think that college men at least, don't know that what they're doing is wrong," he added.
So let's take that point for the sake of argument: that it's possible some of the men who commit sexual violence don't realize what they're doing is assault. The alcohol has blurred their ability to interpret social cues and they don't understand where the line is. If that's the case, then men shouldn't be drinking.
As Yoffe notes, research published in the Journal of American College Health shows alcohol is often involved in campus rape. We also know a majority of assaults are committed by friends or acquaintances, not strangers jumping out of the bushes. So we should tell men to not get drunk, because then they will know better whether they are committing an act of sexual violence. Clearly, college bros sucking down Keystone and Vegas Bombs are an issue here.
Why don't we just have no one drink? Then no one is ever intoxicated and they will always have their wits about them, as Yoffe prescribes. Problem solved.
Actually, it doesn't solve much.
If we've learned anything about our history, removing alcohol from the equation doesn't solve social problems, because these sorts of arguments are reaching for same sort of discourse that led to prohibition.
The Woman's Christian Temperance Union pushed for prohibition to prevent domestic abuse from alcoholic husbands. It was, in fact, a common reason given by pro-prohibitionists that outlawing alcohol would stop wife-beating and other bad, abusive behaviors. If these men didn't drink, then they wouldn't assault women, the argument went. I guess that they would instead have some orange juice and do yard work with a smile.
The answer to violent crime is not avoiding intoxication. No one looks at three cases of armed robbery or any other type of assault where the victim was drunk and says "Ah, ha! If only these people would stop getting tipsy, they could've prevented becoming a victim!" Yet, that's what Yoffe has advocated in her Slate column. It's akin to telling victims of gang violence to put themselves in better neighborhoods, or saying victims of home burglaries to have protected their home better.
A woman should not have to fear that if she reaches a certain Blood Alcohol Level, one of her friends, acquaintances or even boyfriend might sexually assault her.
Yoffe is out of touch about collegiate culture. She feels the need to cite from a book the fact that students at state universities in Florida start drinking at 8 a.m. before a major football game as if it's shocking. The only shocking thing about that is that the students aren't drinking earlier in the a.m. as they did at my alma mater, Iowa State University, which is never ranked as a top party school. She doesn't need an expert to confirm that the weekend often starts on a Thursday at a state school. (She should speak with an actual student to learn the phrase "front-loading" isn't used outside of Swiss scientists who use it as a synonym of "pre-funking," another term not used by American college students, ever.)
"But nothing is going to be as effective at preventing alcohol-facilitated assaults as a reduction in alcohol consumption," Yoffe writes. Really??
Yoffe mentions that she's spoken with a three recent college graduates who were the survivors of assaults. Great. But after I spoke with dozens of current and former students who survived sexual violence, I have a much different take than the solution being these women should drink less.
Our society has to teach everyone better about healthy sexual relationships. It should be so deeply ingrained among college men and women what consensual sex is and how important it is to have consent when lines are blurred. It's not just about hook-up culture, either, because these incidents unfortunately happen between people who are dating or married as well.
Should everyone watch their alcohol intake? Yeah, and if we're going to drink in college, then we shouldn't have a goal of blacking out. But in terms of stopping sexual violence, let's start with teaching people not to rape and go from there.
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