The Pitfalls Of Rape Prevention

Emily Yoffe issues a call for women to take their own steps toward avoiding sexual assault, arguing that “the rise of female binge drinking has made [college] campuses a prey-rich environment”:

Experts I spoke to who wanted young women to get this information said they were aware of how loaded it has become to give warnings to women about their behavior. “I’m always feeling defensive that my main advice is: ‘Protect yourself. Don’t make yourself vulnerable to the point of losing your cognitive faculties,’ ” says Anne Coughlin, a professor at the University of Virginia School of Law, who has written on rape and teaches feminist jurisprudence. She adds that by not telling them the truth—that they are responsible for keeping their wits about them—she worries that we are “infantilizing women.” …

The biological reality is that women do not metabolize alcohol the same way as men, and that means drink for drink women will get drunker faster. … If female college students start moderating their drinking as a way of looking out for their own self-interest—and looking out for your own self-interest should be a primary feminist principle—I hope their restraint trickles down to the men.

Katie McDonough accuses Yoffe of writing “rape apologia”:

These arguments are offensive and damaging to victims, but they are also familiar to the point of being banal. It’s the reason why responding to them can be a challenge, because it is hard to find new ways to say the same things. Like that female sexuality or female vulnerability do not cause rape. That rape is a crime, but that being drunk is not. These things have been written before, and they will most certainly be written again.

Yoffe has plenty of good data to support her argument that binge drinking on college campuses isn’t healthy. The over-consumption of alcohol can literally kill people. What it can’t do, however, is make a woman responsible for a crime committed against her.

Emily Matchar comes to Yoffe’s defense:

The fact that Yoffe didn’t discuss men in her story is troubling. It frames rape as a women’s issue rather than an everybody issue, which I assume was not her intent. But this doesn’t make her points about women and drinking any less true. Educating women on the factors that make them vulnerable to assault is not victim-blaming. It is simply practical advice backed up by data. We tell travelers to be aware of their surroundings in unfamiliar cities to reduce the risk of mugging. We teach new drivers defensive strategies to avoid being hit by drunks and speeders. This should not be any different.

Some critics said Yoffe was merely rehashing tired, hysterical old warnings about alcohol and rape, which “all” women have already heard. Yet many available sources of information on sexual assault prevention skirt the issue of drunkenness without directly addressing it. They urge alertness and awareness: Trust your gut, walk purposefully, keep your keys handy, scan your surroundings when alone at night, note the locations of emergency phones. But these are all things that drunkenness make impossible. Why not address that directly?

Recent Dish on rape here, here, here, and here.