Victim-Blaming and Uhmerica

Slate published an article by Emily Yoffe (aka Prudence, the advice columnist) that had me shaking my head for the entire morning.  In it, Yoffe reveals startling statistics on the prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses and  the role alcohol plays in many of these incidences.  She goes on to say that women should not get to get drunk so as to prevent potential sexual assault and advising such is NOT akin to victim-blaming.  My response? NO. No. No. No. No. No. NO. NO. Aaaaand NO.

Listen, everyone should be careful when consuming alcohol, especially on college campuses, regardless of gender.  Just look at these numbers published by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism at the National Institute of Health:

  • Death:  1,825 college students between the ages of 18 and 24 die from alcohol-related unintentional injuries, including motor vehicle crashes (Hingson et al., 2009).
  • Injury:  599,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are unintentionally injured under the influence of alcohol (Hingson et al., 2009).
  • Assault:  696,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are assaulted by another student who has been drinking (Hingson et al., 2009).

Obviously, drinking irresponsibly leads to all sorts of trouble so our efforts shouldn’t be focused on telling women not to get drunk because there are bad people out there but telling EVERYONE to CHILL OUT WITH THAT SHIT.

While it may not be exactly victim-blaming, her article still puts the onus on the victim to protect herself from harm.  It’s akin to telling women not to go out at night, or wear revealing clothing, or step out of the house, or breathe. There’s an underlying assumption that women’s bodies are public domain.  Your body is for consumption and does not belong to you whether or not you’re inebriated, but especially if you are.  Perpetrators will assault women regardless of their state of consciousness; does it make it easier when you’re inebriated? Yes. Should women forever be frightened into constantly policing themselves? NO.  There are thousands (if not hundreds of thousands) of rape cases that go unreported because the victim feels as though she deserved it or somehow let it happen.  Just last week Yoffe received a letter from a woman who was raped by her boyfriend’s womanizing best friend but hadn’t reported it because she had let him in the apartment.  Did Yoffe admonish her for allowing him into her home despite her knowing he had a history of being a cad and, interestingly, drunk? No.  Because you don’t do that.

We are a nation of reactionary, pearl-clutching, hand wringing zebra farts.  Instead of focusing on prevention, we only do something once some horrendous event occurs.  Take gun control for example.  This debate has been raging on the sidelines for years but it took an elementary school massacre in order for the conversation to be brought to the national stage.  Did anything happen? Not really.  Anti-gun control activists have a much louder voice, a stronger lobby, and well, guns.  Their counter argument?  People need guns to protect themselves from gun-toting maniacs.  What’s wrong with that picture?  MANIACS SHOULDN’T BE ALLOWED TO HAVE GUNS IN THE FIRST PLACE.  How do you achieve that?  BY INSTITUTING COMPREHENSIVE GUN CONTROL REFORM.  There have been numerous studies showing how gun culture actually only serves to perpetuate gun violence, not deter it.  There are plenty of countries who serve as a perfect case study for why we need it – take Australia.  They had one massacre and instituted swift and strict gun control policies and haven’t had one since.

So back to the point at hand.  Stop policing women’s bodies.  Stop telling women that they should do this, that, and the other thing to prevent assault.  Stop re-victimizing women by assigning them blame for not taking “proper precaution.”

Focus your efforts on telling men not to take advantage of women who are inebriated.  Teach men that women’s bodies are not public space.  Reform sexual assault laws to make sure women can report sexual assault without fearing recourse.  Tell your sons, brothers, relatives, friends, that women are autonomous individuals who deserve humanity regardless of how drunk they are, what they wear, or how late it is.

Also, just NO.

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5 thoughts on “Victim-Blaming and Uhmerica

  1. Instead of focusing on prevention, we only do something once some horrendous event occurs.

    Which is why I think women should take any measure they can to protect themselves, such as controlling their drinking and staying in groups if they’re going to be out at night.

    Focus your efforts on telling men not to take advantage of women who are inebriated. Teach men that women’s bodies are not public space. Reform sexual assault laws to make sure women can report sexual assault without fearing recourse. Tell your sons, brothers, relatives, friends, that women are autonomous individuals who deserve humanity regardless of how drunk they are, what they wear, or how late it is.

    We can do this AND caution women against poor choices. Rape has been happening since the beginning of time. We can’t make horrible people less horrible. What we CAN do is encourage women to be proactive. It won’t always help, but sometimes it might. People who rape will continue to do so regardless of being told “women are autonomous individuals,” let’s no make it easier for them by discouraging safety.

  2. Thank you for your response and your thoughtful post on this topic. The thing that I find most insulting about Yoffe’s article was her framing it as though she was the first person to ever tell women not to binge drink. I don’t think this is something anyone should engage in because it leads to a number of horrible outcomes, one of which is rape. I actually acknowledge that it makes it easier to be a target of rape: “does it make it easier when you’re inebriated? Yes. Should women forever be frightened into constantly policing themselves? NO.” You mentioned that rape has been around since the beginning of time. And so has telling women what to do with their bodies and how to behave. You mentioned in your post that we need to stop acting like women can’t take care of themselves. But Yoffe’s article does exactly that — treat women as though they don’t already know the dangers associated with drinking or going out at night alone. And the idea that women aren’t proactive enough about ensuring their own safety is infantilizing and demeaning. I can’t remember a time where I wasn’t cautioned against doing something that might make me vulnerable to an attack. In fact, I’m acutely aware of who’s standing in front of me on the train, who’s sitting next to me on the bus, and who’s behind me when I walk to my car. I carry my keys between my knuckles when I’m alone at night. There’s a difference between protecting yourself from danger and constantly expecting it by virtue of your gender.
    No where in my post do I discourage safety, I simply put the responsibility of these crimes where it belongs: on the perpetrator. It is also infantilizing to men to think that they aren’t responsible for the decision to sexually assault someone. And that’s the difference: it is a choice to rape someone, it is not a choice to be raped. Rapists don’t just emerge out of the dark; an overwhelming number of sexual assaults are perpetrated by an acquaintance. But we’ve made it so much easier to force women to constantly police themselves instead of educating young men on what sexual assault and consent mean. I know that changing attitudes and perceptions surrounding rape and sexual assault will not happen overnight. But, Yoffe’s article is nothing new; what she’s saying has been said in every iteration and form. And it won’t stop rape from happening either; it only upholds the status quo. So no, nothing will change and we won’t be able to make “horrible people less horrible” if we continue to follow sexist defeatist advice like Yoffe’s.

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