Alcohol Education and Sexual Assault

Link to "Stop Teaching Students that Sexual Assault is a Potential Consequence of Drinking"
Link to “Stop Teaching Students that Sexual Assault is a Potential Consequence of Drinking”

Are alcohol consumption and sexual assault linked?

Yes, but not in the way you’ve been led to believe.

Emily Yoffe quotes Christopher Krebs as saying (linked below):

“…when your judgment is compromised, your risk is elevated of having sexual violence perpetrated against you.”

This sounds all too familiar. As Yoffe and countless others have so eloquently warned, the best way to prevent sexual assault is telling women to stop drinking alcohol.

Alcohol consumption and sexual assault are linked, says Yoffe.

Yes, but not the way she would have us believe.

Yoffe and others have failed to understand and respect the difference between sexual violence prevention and sexual violence protection.

Ann Friedman writes (linked below):

“…alcohol consumption may contribute to some sexual assaults because it allows perpetrators to focus on their immediate feelings of sexual desire and entitlement rather than on more distal cues like the victim’s suffering or their own feelings or morality.”

As Friedman and others have aptly noted: rapists cause rape. Alcohol may be a contributing factor (for the perpetrator) but ultimately the responsibility lies with the man who chose – drunk or sober – to objectify and violate a woman.

Approximately one half of sexual assaults involve alcohol consumption by the perpetrator, victim, or both. In higher ed, alcohol educators often assume that students will drink more responsibly if they know alcohol increases their risk of rape. But what if this assumption is wrong? And what if teaching students about sexual assault in the context of alcohol education is doing more harm than good?

Link to SAVE Campaigns

The standard alcohol education message is: “Be smart. Be responsible. Don’t do something stupid because there are often consequences.” Unfortunately, this focus on personal responsibility is completely incompatible with sexual assault prevention. When it comes to sexual assault and alcohol, students interpret the risk reduction message as “don’t drink or you’ll get raped,” or infer that getting raped was your own fault because you were drinking. It’s not only college students who think this way. Just recently, tennis pro Serena Williams told Rolling Stone that the 16-year-old rape survivor in the infamous Steubenville case “put herself in that position” because she was drinking.

Blaming the victim is a pervasive problem with sexual assault. For much too long, prevention education focused on individual risk reduction advice like “don’t walk alone at night” or consisted of self-defense training workshops. We now understand that stranger rape — the dark figure lurking in the bushes kind of rape — is pretty rare. When 85 percent of rapes on college campuses are committed by an acquaintance, teaching women to protect themselves from stranger rape not only misses the point, but implies that rape is the result of a woman’s poor decision making or her failure to protect herself. It also provides a false sense of security by suggesting that if a woman follows a set of rules or adheres to a certain dress code, she won’t get raped (linked above).

Women – whether drunk or sober – are only at risk of being raped if another person chooses to rape them. Suggesting that a woman consider the risk of rape every time she has a beer is a veiled form of victim blaming. That is, it insinuates that, if she acts a certain way, she will be leaving herself vulnerable to attack. Perhaps even more dangerous, it insinuates that if she does not act a certain way, she will be safe from an attack. The responsibility is then placed on her, not the rapist.

It’s no different from saying, “Don’t run alone – you might get raped” or “Don’t wear skirts – you might get raped”. Both warnings expect a woman to prevent the actions of another person, actions she truly has no control over. Nothing a victim does, says, or wears is license to rape.

Prevention education is short-sighted and misleading.

Alcohol education in itself is not bad. Consider “don’t drink and drive”. Since impaired judgment and delayed reaction time are side effects of alcohol consumption, people ought to be aware that operating a car in such a state is not only dangerous but also against the law. If I drink too much and then go driving and crash my car into a tree, the police will hold me responsible…not my car.

Should women (and men) be careful about how much they drink? Yes. Drinking too much is dangerous, whether you are a man or a woman, for a variety of reasons. But do you see the difference between “don’t drink and drive” and “don’t get raped”?

But she/he left herself/himself vulnerable to an attack – it’s her/his fault she/he was raped!

No. Someone chose to use her/his body for a sexual act without her/his consent. It’s the fault of the person committing the act of rape – not the person being acted upon.

(If we want to talk vulnerability, let’s note that statistically, being a woman is enough to make you extra vulnerable to an attack. Note, too, men become victims of rape, as well. This is not a gender issue – it’s a violence issue.)

Link to "The Price Tag on Safety"
Link to “The Price Tag on Safety”

Rape is not a side effect of alcohol. Thus, our vocabulary and methodology in alcohol education and sexual assault education must change. It’s time to tell young men to stop taking advantage of women who have been drinking (or not drinking!) – to view women as human beings, not blow up dolls –  rather than leaving the weight of responsibility on the shoulders of potential female victims. It’s time we warned men of the serious consequences of committing rape. It’s time people learned that sexual assault of any kind is a crime.

Rape prevention should be quite simple: don’t rape.

For more on alcohol and rape, read:

Emma Gray’s article What Slate Gets So Wrong About College Women and Sexual Assault

Ann Friedman’s article College Men: Stop Getting Drunk

Katie McDonough’s article Sorry, Emily Yoffe: Blaming Assault On Women’s Drinking is Wrong, Dangerous, and Tired

Lori’s article ‘Dear Prudence’ Columnist Publishes Rape Denialism Manifesto

Erin Ryan’s article How To Write About Rape Prevention

These are all great responses to the 15 October article by Emily Yoffe entitled, College Women: Stop Getting Drunk.

Read Rape Apologism and Denialism for more information on this topic. Or, check out other posts related to rape culture.

Link to "If 'Rape Warnings' Belong on Alcohol Products, These Warnings Do, too"
Link to “If ‘Rape Warnings’ Belong on Alcohol Products, These Warnings Do, too”

If you or someone you know need help, visit the Global Contacts page for a helpline or crisis center near you.


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