Despite the title of this post, this is not about rape, it’s about alcohol, and prohibitionists. Okay, that’s not exactly true. It’s a little bit about rape, but it’s more about how alcohol is being blamed for it. Rape is without question one of the worst crimes there is, in some ways worse than murder because its effect on the victim never really goes away. Our society, however, doesn’t really take it as seriously as it should, especially if the rapist is from a prominent family, or plays sports. Having a mother, a wife and a daughter, I don’t really understand why we treat it so cavalierly, and often blame the victim, too. Since every man has a mother, and almost every one of them also has at least an aunt, sister, wife, daughter, niece, female cousin, etc., I really don’t get our society’s casualness with rape.
Yes, some other countries are even worse they we are, but that shouldn’t really matter, or excuse it. Time magazine recently put the topic on the cover of their magazine, in their May 26, 2014 issue, focusing on rape on college campuses. It’s a start. And at least it’s getting more attention, which it definitely should. I’ve seen a number of news outlets discussing it. And even the White House weighed in with a report, Not Alone, subtitled “The First Report of the White House Task Force to Protect Students From Sexual Assault.”
Unfortunately, it’s not all good. For example, it’s increasingly true that George Will is not just an out-of-touch old white man, but an asshole, too. But worse still, others are using the increased awareness of this abhorrent phenomenon for their own terrible purpose. Enter Alcohol Justice (AJ), who can’t help but see rape as alcohol’s fault, not as a crime of violence and power, like it actually is. Here’s what they’re tweeting:
To be fair, they didn’t come up with the title “Colleges can’t discount role of drinking in sexual assault,” but they certainly jumped on it to flog their faithful with more tales of the scourge of alcohol. They took it from an internal UB Reporter website and spread it far wider, in order to further their agenda. The “new data from UB,” as if anybody would know who UB is, comes from the University of Buffalo’s Research Institute on Addictions (RIA).
What’s upsetting the RIA, and by extension AJ, is that the White House report didn’t focus enough attention on binge drinking, which they believe is the heart of the problem. Just stop people binge drinking, and that will solve the rape issue on college campuses, goes the thinking.
“Research consistently shows that heavy alcohol use is a factor in a majority of college sexual assault cases,” Livingston says. “Therefore, reduction of binge drinking on campuses must be recognized as a crucial goal in assault prevention efforts.”
Not everybody agrees, of course, and the lone comment to the UB article is from an Anne Taylor, who takes exception:
The researchers are going about this wrong. Men who commit acts of rape and sexual assault will commit these crimes regardless of whether or not alcohol is present. Clearly, these researchers are ignorant about rape culture and its effects on society at large. Men who are rapists use alcohol (and drugs) as an aid to committing acts of rape. Do these researchers honestly believe that reducing binge drinking will reduce the number of men who are rapists? No, these men will simply find another way to prey on their chosen victims.
Maybe these researchers ought to do a little research on rape culture and the patriarchy before conducting their study? As a survivor of sexual assault myself, I am absolutely livid at these researchers for perpetuating one of the many myths of rape culture (i.e., that alcohol and “drunk women” are the only reasons why men rape, never mind the fact we live in an extremely sexist society that devalues women’s bodily autonomy).
The RIA does seem to acknowledge some of what Taylor expresses, when they say. “Some advocates worry that acknowledging the role of binge drinking in assaults is tantamount to blaming the victim, but our common goal here is to prevent sexual assaults by better understanding the conditions under which they are likely to occur.” But I think blaming the alcohol is exactly what they’re doing. At a minimum, that’s the result of shifting the focus from the crime to the question of whether anyone had been drinking. Not only does it blame the victim, but it also provides an excuse for the rapist. And while I’m certain that some students do use drinking alcohol as their way to take advantage of another person, making it about the alcohol removes the responsibility of the rapist, allowing him, and society, to blame it all on binge drinking. Whether binge drinking, or any drinking, is involved muddies the waters and shifts the focus of the rape away from where it belongs: on the heinous crime itself.
The RIA has apparently “conducted groundbreaking research on the association between binge drinking and college sexual assault,” and there’s a link to a fact sheet entitled Alcohol and Sexual Assault. Unfortunately, and not to take away from their efforts, there’s nothing “groundbreaking” here, it’s just an overview of some research and factoids addressing their displeasure with the White House report not making enough of drinking. Even if some of it were true, which no doubt some of it is, it ends up being an excuse for why it was acceptable in the mind of, in some cases, both parties. But this is one of the instances where there should be no ambiguity, a strict liability. Drinks or no drinks, it’s completely unacceptable, so why make it about the drinking?
Blaming alcohol, as RIA and AJ seem to be doing, is doing exactly what they’re claiming not to be doing, making the “role of alcohol” a “stumbling block when discussing prevention efforts.” Because a crime is a crime, whether someone’s been drinking or not. If we discovered that more robberies were perpetrated by people who’d been drinking, would we focus our attention on stopping everyone from drinking, or continue trying to stop robbers from committing the crime? If it was found that criminals who’d been drinking considered robbery more acceptable morally than sober criminals, would that in any way change our view of the crime? And I think that’s why the more serious reports, including the White House’s, are concentrating on stopping the crime, not looking for a bogeyman.
Here’s another way in which one of the rape myths is addressed, from Chapter 7: Violent Crimes Committed Against Women and Children of the Office of the Attorney General for the State of California Department of Justice.
Many people have the wrong idea about sexual assault. They mistakenly believe that rapists are overcome with sexual desire or that a woman who is raped may have dressed too seductively or “asked for it” in some manner. These ideas assume that rape is only a sexual act, a crime that is motivated by desire. It is not. Rape is a violent crime, a hostile act, and an attempt to hurt and humiliate another person. Sex is used as a weapon, and rapists use that weapon against women, strangers and acquaintances of all ages, races and body types.
People may think of it as somehow “okay,” but that doesn’t change what it really is: a terrible crime. You can find information about rape being a violent crime all over the place, from Abstract Nonsense, the Minnesota State University and even the National Institute of Justice. Anybody claiming that they thought it was okay, or was okay if they were drunk, is a Neanderthal that should be removed from society, period. I know that’s not how our society currently approaches rape and sexual assault, but making this a question about how alcohol does or doesn’t contribute to the state of mind of either party to this crime is not helping. In fact I think it’s doing more harm, because not everyone who drinks, or even binge drinks, is a rapist, or thinks sexual assault is acceptable. But that’s the most common prohibitionist tactic. If anything bad ever happens, even just once or twice, and someone involved had been drinking, then the only possible response is for everyone to stop drinking. It must be the alcohol’s fault, and personal responsibility apparently doesn’t really exist. If one person can’t handle their booze, then no one should ever be allowed to drink. The fact that we don’t approach any other societal problem in this manner never seems to matter, and there’s always some excuse about “alcohol” being somehow different because it has, well, alcohol in it. Or it’s a sin, or toxic, or some other ridiculous notion. Oh, and did you hear? It’s made with antifreeze, too, because brewers want to kill all their customers.
When you read more about this, it’s clear that there are a minority of sexual predators on college campuses, and some of them use alcohol as a weapon. According to research as early as 2002, we’ve known this to be the case. In a respected study at the University of Massachusetts, they found that rapes were perpetrated by only 6.4% of the male college students, but that each of them was a serial rapist, with an average of almost six sexual assaults. As is the case with a lot of social problems, alcohol included, a small number of people are making it awful for the rest of us. And our usual response it to let those bad actors determine our response, which inevitably punishes everyone. The White House was right, I think, in focusing on the crime itself, and not on any of the weapons, or on other distractions.
What AJ, and possibly the RIA conveniently seems to forget, is that one of the major causes of binge drinking on college campuses is that prohibitionists forced the minimum age from 18 to 21 by getting Congress to tie it public highway funds. In a sense, binge drinking on college campuses was an unintended consequence of trying to curb drunk driving. The RIA does acknowledge that “underage drinkers who are victimized may fear legal or disciplinary consequences for alcohol use.” That’s what drives college drinking underground, and into secret, and creates the conditions where binge drinking can flourish, and so can sexual predators. So if their real goal was to stop binge drinking in college, they should at the very least be questioning the minimum age and talking about how it would help bring drinking into the open, and thereby possibly reducing many of the negative aspects of binge drinking that they believe are increasing sexual assaults. That’s the entire point of the Amethyst Initiative, which has 136 chancellors and presidents of universities and colleges across the United States signed up to change the law for that very reason. I understand why AJ would never entertain that idea. It’s simply not possible for them to view alcohol in anything but the most negative way imaginable, but I’m baffled why the RIA wouldn’t at least suggest it as one possible solution.
Obviously, education is suggested by everybody, but alcohol education is all but nonexistent, apart from the “just say no” variety, which does no good whatsoever. In some states, it’s actually illegal to teach children about alcohol, even by their own parents. Changing the age from 21 back to 18, along with allowing parents (or others) to give teens real information about alcohol and its effects might go a long way toward reducing binge drinking in college, though I suspect it would have only a minimal effect on sexual assault. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try it, or at least just talk about it.
According to RAINN (The Rape, Assault, Incest National Network), in 30% of sexual assaults the perpetrator was intoxicated with alcohol. That also means in 70% of cases, the rapist was not drunk. I accept that it’s possible that the figure is higher among assaults on college campuses. I’m not trying to downplay the crime here; just the opposite in fact. The point I’m trying to make is that the drinking should be beside the point. It should definitely not be the focus, because it simply shouldn’t matter if either victim or rapist was drinking, or drunk. And that’s what pisses me off about Alcohol Justice. In their rush to highlight anything negative about alcohol, they’re shamelessly blaming alcohol for rapes on college campuses, when it’s clear that bad people are are responsible for them. Good people don’t turn into rapists by drinking too much. Bad people are already bad, whether they drink alcohol or give it to their victims. I just wish Alcohol Justice, and the other prohibitionists, would stop blaming alcohol for every problem facing society.