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the link between binge drinking and sexual assault


Should we tell women to stop binge drinking in order to protect them from being sexually assaulted?

Emily Yoffe, who writes the Dear Prudence column at Slate thinks so, and has attracted the ire of the Internet since having her piece published. Yoffe makes the case that binge drinking is closely related to sexual assault and yet, as she puts it, ‘we’re reluctant to tell women to stop doing it.’

Yoffe refers to a 2009 study of campus sexual assault in the United States that found that almost 20 percent of senior college women are victims of sexual assault predominately at the hands of a fellow classmate. This same study apparently states that more than 80 percent of these campus sexual assaults involve alcohol. Yoffe therefore makes her case that alcohol in this context creates situations where ‘sometimes the woman is the only one drunk and runs into a particular type of shrewd – and sober – sexual predator who lurks where women drink like a lion at a watering hole. For these kinds of men, the rise of female binge drinking has made campuses a prey-rich environment.’

A flood of complaint to Yoffe’s article appeared focussed on her stark “victim blaming”, debunking the simplistic equation that young women drinking copious amounts of alcohol equals rape.

Mia Freedman has since come to the writer’s defence. She said, ‘But teaching girls how to reduce their risk of sexual assault is not the same thing as victim blaming. It’s not. And we must stop confusing the two.’ Freedman also drew the wrath of the internet.

On the whole the comments and opinions seem mixed, but what do you think? Is asking women to stop binge drinking lest they find themselves assaulted the same as victim blaming? Or is it, as one commenter said, ‘just common sense’?

Jezebel has countered with a step by step called “How to Write About Rape Without Sounding Like an Asshole.” The article is set out in do’s and don’ts. For example, ‘DO encourage people of both genders to pay attention to their personal safety,’ and DON’T write a piece admonishing women for not doing enough to stop their own rapes.’

Jezebel argues that ‘Yoffe’s assertion – that alcohol plays a role in a lot of on-campus sexual assaults – is a valid one, and she’s got data to back it up. Unfortunately, she doesn’t seem to understand that while alcohol plays a role in many sexual assaults, there’s only one element that plays a role in all sexual assaults: a rapist.’

Yoffe’s entire article is about rape prevention but it fails to mention anything to do with “rapist prevention.” If alcohol is a defining factor which, when taken out of the equation could prevent rape, what about the rapist’s consumption of alcohol?

Worse, Yoffe brings in an imaginary son who she says she would tell ‘that it’s in his self-interest not to be the drunken frat boy who finds himself accused of raping a drunken classmate.’ There is something terribly wrong with the sentence that Yoffe has constructed. She may as well have said, ‘Don’t get caught.’ What is not discussed in Yoffe’s article is the concept of consent, which should be central to the whole discussion.

Binge drinking is one thing. Alcohol is a substance that is used and abused in many social situations. But another common thread is consent and whether it has been given or not.

4 thoughts on “the link between binge drinking and sexual assault

  1. I’m very much in agreement that the majority of the supposedly well-meaning sexual assault prevention articles are essentially blaming women for not doing enough to stop their own rapes.

    I think, however, that there are strong limitations with the ‘lets-teach-rapists-not-to-rape” response, in that it assumes that rapists don’t know that what they’re doing is wrong, or that, if they did know, they wouldn’t rape.

    I think such an act would have about as much effect as the “Class Rules” poster in Kindergarten does in preventing kids from being bullied in years 1-12. Ultimately, a primary school bully doesn’t pick on other kids because they have no idea it’s against the rules, they do it because they are in a superior power relationship to the bully victim AND they’re pretty sure they won’t get punished for it.

    To apply that to sexual assault, factors such as the inherent embarrassment and awkwardness of each individual sexual assault (which lowers its likelihood of being reported) and the low conviction rate for rape both strongly contribute to the capacity of rapists to commit such crimes, ultimately because they think they can get away with it. Tackling this confidence in “getting away with it” is the key factor in my opinion.

    Ultimately, no major crime in society (murder, theft, fraud) has been reduced by an increase in the quantity of media saying “don’t murder!” but instead has been reduced through the meticulous application of criminal punishments and a very high conviction rate, and I think the eradication (or, at least, dramatic reduction) of sexual assault will come about in a similar fashion.

    • Certain assholes will always try to twist ANY statement about safety and situational awareness into a statement wherein said asshole blames the victim. Our fear of this has caused us to hand these assholes theb power to determine whatbis said. We are so afraid others may misinterpret or twist our words that we throw up our hands and say”we cant say anything, someone will takeb it wrong”. I understand the desire to avoid victim blaming. The bottom line however is this. YOUR GOOD INTENTIONS DO NOT MEAN SHIT! If your action, or in this case silence, leads foreseeably to putting women at greater risk, if this silence makes it far easier for rapists to find victims and far easier for them to succeed un their rape attempts, then no matter what you are TRYING to do, or the outcome you WISH your actions would have, the fact is that, in this, the real and imperfect world we live in, YOU ARE A RAPE ENABLER. May it be on your conscience.

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