The new victim-blaming

In an article recently published by the Slate, writer Emily Yoffe urged college women to stop drinking because it is “closely associated with sexual assault.” In the article, headlined “College women: stop getting drunk,” Yoffe blames rape on the amount of alcohol women consume.

Her article got a lot of backlash. Feministing, a feminist blog, called the piece a “rape denialism manifesto” and feminist Jessica Valenti tweeted “I hope Emily Yoffe can sleep well tonight knowing she made the world a little safer for rapists.”

Yoffe cites a study published by the Journal of American College Health that says 20 percent of college women will become victims by the time they are seniors. She immediately couples this with another statistic – 80 percent of campus sexual assaults involve alcohol. When painted like that, it becomes pretty clear she is blaming sexual assault and rape on the amount of alcohol women consume.

“When you lose the ability to be responsible for yourself, you drastically increase the chances that you will attract the kinds of people who, shall we say, don’t have your best interest at heart,” she wrote. She claimed this isn’t victim blaming, it is merely warning women, trying to prevent more victims in the future.

It sure sounds like victim blaming to me. The language she uses makes that clear. She is directly addressing women in her article. YOU are doing this to yourself, she is saying. YOU are increasing your potential to be raped. That’s one small step away from saying “you are asking for it.”
So, if a woman is raped while she is drunk, it’s her fault? The answer to rape associated with alcohol is for women to just stop drinking? Later in the article, she wrote, “We are failing to let women know that when they render themselves defenseless, terrible things can be done to them.” Having a few drinks is now making women defenseless?

Her main support for her article is drinking is closely associated with sexual assault. Closely related does not mean directly caused by. Driving a car is closely associated with getting in a car accident, but nobody is telling people to stay off the roads forever.

This is just another way to tell women it is their fault if they become victims. Articles like this are what contribute to feelings of guilt and shame for women who have been assaulted. Opinions like this are what prevent them from seeking help. According to Up to Date, a resource for medical doctors, only 16 to 36 percent of rape victims report it to law enforcement. Only 17 to 43 percent seek a medical evaluation after and one third never report it to their primary physician. That directly puts women at risk for untreated sexually transmitted diseases.

We all know there are risks associated with heavy drinking, that is not my issue with her article. There is a correlation between heavy drinking and sexual assault. I am, however, disagreeing with her response and call to action. Telling women they need to stop drinking in order to not be assaulted is just pushing the issue on their shoulders.

Instead of telling women it is their responsibility to not be assaulted, we need to educate both men and women on what is consent and what is not. If someone is too drunk to function, they are too drunk to give their consent. Giving women the classic “there are other ways to have fun” lecture is old fashioned and never going to work in the college culture.