‘Don’t drink if you don’t want to get raped’: Female advice columnist causes backlash with controversial opinion on how to prevent sexual assault
Emily Yoffe, Slate’s Dear Prudence advice columnist, proposed an age-old entreaty to women on Wednesday: Don’t drink if you don’t want to get raped.
The 58-year-old journalist, whose own teenager daughter is heading off to college next year, argues that parents, schools, and sexual assault prevention experts can help to bring down the number of rape victims by telling young women to stop drinking alcohol.
But young women, young men and victim services experts strongly disagree. Many have labeled Ms Yoffe’s article as ‘offensive and damaging,’ while others believe that analyzing the actions of the victim, rather than the attacker, sends a message that rape is excusable.
‘A common denominator in these cases is alcohol, often copious amounts, enough to render the young woman incapacitated,’ writes Ms Yoffe. ‘We are failing to let women know that when they render themselves defenseless, terrible things can be done to them.’
The Atlantic Wire’s Alexander Abad-Santos quickly pointed out that there is only one common factor in the rape of college women: rapists.
‘Yoffe’s point doesn’t come from a bad place — she wants to see less women raped. That’s a good intention, which the overwhelming majority of Americans share,’ writes Mr Abad-Santos. ‘[But] it’s like 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. What about teaching men not to rape?’
Ms Yoffe backs up her column with several studies, one being a 2009 study of campus sexual assault, which found that almost 20 percent of college women will become victims of rape, overwhelmingly by a fellow classmate. The same study states that more than 80 per cent of campus sexual assaults involve alcohol.
But this, according to Thomas MacAulay Millar from Yes Means Yes, Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape, focuses on treating the symptom, instead of looking for ways to treat the disease — the repeat rapists and the social constructs that allow them to get away with it.
‘She gives up on catching and punishing them, in favor of telling women that they can’t do something that men take for granted the right to do,’ he writes.
Emma Gray, editor of Huffington Post Women, agrees. ‘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?’ she asks.
‘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.’
Jezebel’s Erin Gloria Ryan weighed in on the subject, concluding that ‘we’re all pretty tired of the “ladies be getting themselves raped” trope.’ Echoing previous sentiments, she added that Ms Yoffe ‘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.’
Meanwhile Lori Adelman pointed out at Feministing that Ms Yoffe has, multiple times, used her Dear Prudence column as a platform to scold women who were sexually assaulted after drinking.
Certainly, binge drinking should not been seen as a way for young women to assert independence and liberation, but Ms Yoffe’s argument has been called out for being counteractive to the liberated ideal that a woman should be free to do as she pleases, without suffering ill-effects.
‘This false idea, that women’s behavior is the real reason they are victimized — and that we live in a society that does a poor job of policing such behavior — is regularly used to blame sexual violence on the “problem” of young women today,’ writes Salon’s associate editor, Katie McDonough in an article titled ‘Sorry, Emily Yoffe: Blaming assault on women’s drinking is wrong, dangerous and tired.’
Newsweek’s Katie Baker, who labeled Ms Yoffe’s argument as ‘offensive and damaging to victims,’ also emphasized that ‘our culture is swimming with examples of women — in movies, television and real life — who are “punished” for their “bad choices” with sexual violence.
‘“Bad choices” include wearing a short skirt, staying out too late, getting too drunk, trusting too much. The list of reasons that Americans believe women deserve rape is long.’
It is well known, as Ms Yoffe documents, that heavily intoxicated women are more likely to be sexually assaulted, but some medical advisers who can ‘see where Ms Yoffe is coming from,’ also believe that women who choose to perform consensual sexual acts with men often use alcohol as a psychic lubricant — putting them at a heightened risk of being taken advantage of by predators.
‘If they are true predators they will choose victims who are less likely to be consciously aware of what is happening,’ argues New York-based psychotherapist and life coach, Stuart Schneiderman.
Ms Yoffee cites how researchers Abbey and David Lisak have explored how these men use alcohol, instead of violence, to commit their crimes — offenders who can be ‘campus leaders, charming and well liked — something that comes in handy if they are accused of anything.’
‘They work our mythology against us,’ Peter Lake, the director of the Center for Excellence in Higher Education Law and Policy at Stetson University College of Law, told Ms Yoffe. ‘We would like to see our daughters hang out with nice boys in navy blue blazers.’
But this argument, like that of many legislators, ultimately tell victims it is their responsibility not to get raped.
Jennifer Marsh, vice president of victim services at the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, America’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, said it is ‘ineffective and harmful’ to offer advice that suggests there are specific steps one can take to avoid being sexually assaulted.
Ms Yoffe’s column ‘sends the message that if you don’t drink, you won’t be raped, which is obviously not the case,’ Ms Marsh told Newsweek. ‘Unfortunately, there’s no surefire way to prevent sexual assault. [Rape] can take place anywhere, at any time. It’s not just in a fraternity bedroom after a party.’ And it can happen to women who are sober, too.
Even Slate’s own Amanda Hess addressed her colleague’s story, asking that next time she focus on the rapists, not the victims.
‘Rape is a societal problem, not a self-help issue,’ she said. ‘Parents can tell their own daughters not to get drunk, but even if those women follow instructions, it won’t keep other people’s daughters safe. It will just force campus rapists who rely on alcohol to execute their crimes to find other targets.’
Though she agrees with Ms Yoffe that excessive alcohol consumption is a problem on college campuses, Miss Hess believes singling out one gender of drinkers for alcohol education is ‘counter-productive.’
She explained: ‘We can prevent the most rapes on campus by putting our efforts toward finding and punishing those perpetrators, not by warning their huge number of potential victims to skip out on parties.
‘Colleges can start changing those structures by refusing to put the onus on victims to prevent their own assaults and instead holding perpetrators accountable for the crimes they commit—often, while drunk.’
The life coach, Mr Schneiderman, believes encouraging women to drink less is an ‘oversimplification’ of the crime of sexual assault.
‘Why not try to change the culture so that men are encouraged to demonstrate more respect for women?’ he asked.