I know that this is old “news.” It has to have been around for decades. I know that I’ve ranted about it before. And I know that it might even be a mistake to give this kind of bullshit anymore attention than it already has, but I’ll be damned if this article in a college newspaper about how women who drink are more likely to be raped doesn’t make flames shoot out my eyeballs.
Young women who increase alcohol consumption are at a higher risk of being sexually assaulted, a new study shows.
About 900 women, mostly 18 years of age, participated in the study, conducted by researchers at the State University of New York, Buffalo. Researchers say that female students are more vulnerable to victimization if they increase their drinking. Female first-years are particularly at risk for physical assault, especially if they are new drinkers or have a previous history of victimization or psychological problems.
According to Health Services statistics, freshmen and sophomores make up about three quarters of alcohol-related Emergency Medical Services calls to Health Services. High levels of drinking among first-year students can be partly attributed to “anxiety over the transition into college,” said Director of Health Education Frances Mantak. “For some people, alcohol use is a way to feel more comfortable socially,” Mantak added. Students with previous history of victimization often abuse substances because they struggle with other problems, Mantak said. “They drink because they haven’t found other positive mechanisms for managing (their problems).”
Can someone please explain to me how freshman and sophomore anxiety and “alcohol-related Emergency Medical Services calls,” of which I’m sure only a small percent are about sexual assault, has to do with anything? What, women should find another way to relax? Taking up yoga stops rape now? Or hey, maybe we shouldn’t just bar women from drinking — how about we refuse their right to go to school all together, because the risk of stress is just way too high?
While that’s a very bitter joke, what is the difference between saying that women shouldn’t attend college because a large number of sexual assault victims are university students and that women shouldn’t drink because a large number of sexual assault victims are intoxicated? Other than the ramifications of not attending college being larger than the ramifications of abstaining from alcohol, I sure as hell can’t tell the suggestions apart. For fuck’s sake, if they want to relate the study back to the school in particular, how about they do something responsible like looking at campus rape statistics and what the school is doing do prevent sexual assault?
But wait, Mantak does have something to say about the study and about rape:
Mantak also said the offenders’ behavior should not go unnoticed, since offenders target vulnerable victims with heavy drinking habits. “We have to be careful about how we frame our words because we have to be careful to not make the victim feel like it’s their fault,” she said. “We have a culture of victim blaming, and the researchers may be unintentionally doing it as well.”
Emily Mellor ’10, a member of the Female Majority Leadership Alliance, agreed.
“I’m pretty sure the findings are true, but I’m not sure how useful it is to look at findings like these,” she said. “The only thing you can take from it is if you drink, you get assaulted, and I don’t think it’s the fault of the person who drank if they get assaulted. People who are sexually assaulting others are using alcohol as a weapon,” Mellor said.
For the record, I don’t doubt the findings either. In fact, I’m pretty sure that the findings are correct. And yet — and this is where people tend to get confused — a study can still be total bullshit even if the results are valid.
Why is it bullshit? Because we’re looking in the wrong fucking place.
For the (probably not) last time, women can’t stop rape. We can support victims. We can put together prevention and education programs. We can disprove rape myths. We can lobby for funds and greater awareness. We can try our hardest to expose and break down patriarchal structures. We can demand better laws and harsher punishments. We can take self-defense classes and not drink and stay at home and carry pepper spray. In fact, most of us actually do these things, to some extent. And I think that most of them help. But we can’t stop rape. If we could stop rape, we would have done it by now, and I would be sitting here weeping with relief rather than with an angry tear in my eye.
Men can stop rape. Most men aren’t rapists, but almost all rapists are men. And rapists are the only ones who can stop rape.
Trust me, I understand that this is frustrating. To acknowledge that until we find a way to get through to rapists, until we give them a good reason to stop raping or they find one on their own (“it’s wrong” has proven to not be enough), the fate of sexual assault is in their hands . . . it’s infuriating and it’s terrifying.
But that’s not why most people don’t want to believe it. Most people don’t want to believe that men (who rape) are ultimately responsible for rape, not because it makes them feel helpless but because it contradicts their entire understanding of the world. It would mean that men are actual people who can control their penises, and if that’s the case, it sure as hell means that us women have been getting fucked over. Many women don’t want to believe that they could have gotten screwed so badly and that so many people they know and trust have been complicit in the big lie. And so they think that if they follow the arbitrary rules, they will somehow escape the fate of all those “loose” women who are sexually assaulted. And many men, of course, don’t want to believe it (or know the truth but deny it), because in a world where men can control their penises, they’ll likely be expected to do so.
But back to the topic at hand: drinking increases a woman’s risk of being raped (by some presumably unknowable, mysterious raping entity). To my non-misogynist brain, this says that rapists are not only hateful, violent cowards, but also lazy and particularly unethical. But clearly, I’m in the minority. To those saying that this kind of study doesn’t put the onus on women to avoid rape but is just giving us “information,” think again:
Though the study may be “one-sided” in examining only female victims, Women’s Peer Counselor Hee Kyung Chung ’10 said that, since the behavior of offenders is harder to control, women should limit their drinking to ensure their own safety.
“Taking into account the logistical difficulties of studying the other side, the best thing a woman can do is to make responsible life choices,” Chung said.
This is a Women’s Peer Counselor. No, really, it bears repeating: this woman is a women’s peer counselor. Someone who should know better than a vast majority of the population on the subject of sexual assault and who has a hell of a lot less excuse for this type of remark. Still, it’s what we get.
The argument doesn’t even make sense. She acknowledges that it’s very difficult to control the behavior of rapists. And yet, somehow, it turns out that women should try to control the behavior of rapists with their own behavior, anyway. The misogynist cultural indoctrination runs deep.
To the paper (and Chung, if it was indeed her own word), not drinking does not ensure anyone’s safety. It didn’t ensure my safety when I was fourteen and in a sexually abusive relationship before a drop of alcohol had ever touched my lips. It didn’t ensure the safety of most of the women I know who have told me their own rape stories, because they weren’t drinking at the time. It doesn’t ensure the safety of a woman who tries to drink moderately and has her drink spiked, anyway. It doesn’t ensure the safety of a woman who is raped by a husband, boyfriend or father. These women couldn’t have avoided sexual assault by not drinking. And so those raped while intoxicated couldn’t have either.
Chung refers to “responsible life choices.” Of course, she’s talking about women, as though we wake up in the morning and choose to be raped. No one talks about men making the responsible life choice to not rape. When you do, they throw a fit and want to know why we should tell men not to rape because they’re men and they’re not going to rape. But though huge numbers of women are raped, a significant majority are not. And we feel perfectly fine telling them what they should do to avoid the ever-present threat of rape by the men whose feelings we’re afraid to hurt.
Here are the facts. When someone actually bothers to do a responsible study about how alcohol affects rape, they do indeed find that a large number of victims were intoxicated at the time of the assault. They also find that in most cases where alcohol was involved, both parties were drinking. And in cases where only the victim or the perpetrator was drinking, the rapist was more than twice as likely as the victim to be intoxicated (pdf).
But I’ll just keep on holding my breath for that article titled “Alcohol tied to risk of being a rapist.” I’ll wait for the simply rational advice that men shouldn’t drink because there’s a relatively small chance that drinking will cause them to rape someone. Can’t you see it right around the corner? A time when a woman makes a rape allegation and people accusingly ask the man well were you drinking?
Until then, I guess that we’ll just have to make due with the articles about how women should stay locked inside their homes forever — for their own good, of course.