Warning about binge drinking and rape draws fire

Teens party with alcohol
Teenagers with alcohol: A risk that can lead to other risks.
Marco Di Lauro/Getty Images

When Slate contributor Emily Yoffe warned that young women increase their risk of sexual assault when they get helplessly drunk, critics rushed to rebuke her. Some of the criticism continued Thursday on The Daily Circuit.

Yoffee joined Kerri Miller and Prof. Roberta Gibbons from Metro State University to talk about her piece and the reactions to it. Some highlights from their conversation:

Some parents, some churches, some schools do a really good job at these kinds of conversations, but as a society we really don't embrace this idea that we're going to have good conversations ... with our children, male and female, about what healthy sexuality looks like, about drinking, etc. And there's really not very good comprehensive sex ed in the schools either. So the default sex educator becomes pornography. No matter what you think about pornography as a moral issue ... it lies about sexual relationships, and it doesn't set a very good example, especially for our young men, about how to go about being in a sexual relationship with another person. ...

One of the interesting things about research with perpetrators shows that about a third of them, when they talk about sex, they're actually describing rape. They don't know what they're doing is illegal, because the sex education they've had growing up, which has been at the hands of pornography, has taught them this is OK. If a woman passes out from alcohol, for example, it's OK to have sex with that person. This is another place where we can really think about, how can we be doing things differently with our young men?

I remain baffled. My piece made very clear the people responsible for the crimes are the perpetrators, period. However ... there have been many studies showing that rape on campus is almost entirely committed by people known to the victim. Eighty-plus percent of these crimes take place when the victim is highly intoxicated. And there is some kind of prohibition about discussing what young women can do to reduce their chances of becoming victims of people who are predators. ... I think that everyone who criticized me probably locked their front door and their car door that same day. There are just basic things people do to keep themselves from becoming victims of property crimes. ... Why wouldn't we make very explicit, "Hey, you can go to a party, you can have fun. But you really need to keep your wits about you, because once you lose the capacity to know where you are and what you're doing, bad people can come do bad things to you"?

I think we should be telling everybody not to drink too much, for a variety of reasons related to health, safety, productivity, happiness, etc., but when we single out the advice and give it only to college women, as a means for them to prevent the bad behavior of someone else, it comes across as blaming women for other people choosing to rape them. ... Rape is a societal problem. It's not a self-help issue. ... There is a long history of telling women how they should constrain their behavior, or behave differently, so that they won't be harmed by men. Twenty years ago, it was OK to believe, "If only she would act differently, he husband wouldn't beat her. If only she would quiet down, know her place, etc. Our cultural norms have changed around domestic violence, and we now understand that it's not the responsibility of a woman in an abusive relationship to stop her abuser from beating her by the way that she acts. And I feel like we haven't gotten there yet with sexual assault.

Most young men aren't rapists. There are a small minority who are. And this weekend ... a lot of young people are going to get drunk. A lot of young women are going to get hurt. And all the education programs in the world are not going to stop, this weekend, those young men who — it may be more than they're lacking education in what consent is. There are some hardcore predators walking around, and they target the incapacitated. I am not blaming women. Just as I would tell my daughter, never ever hitchhike ... I have a daughter who's a senior in high school, she's going to be going off to college. ... I know she's going to drink, she'll be underage. I understand she'll do it. But I've told her, do it within limits so that you know what is happening around you.

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