Yesterday, Slate writer Emily Yoffe published a story on the importance of teaching college women that binge drinking raises their risk of being raped. It was a story your mom probably would have approved of—prescriptive, groaningly fuddy-duddyish (“it’s possible to have fun without being drunk”), with the cadences of a health education video, writes Emily Matchar in today’s edition of The Atlantic:
“But the basic point seemed to me indisputably sensible: College-aged women should be taught that moderating their alcohol use is an important tool in staying safe from sexual assault. In this age of beer pong and Jäger bombs, when 64 percent of college women drink more than the recommended weekly amount, this seems well worth repeating.
“The Internet, apparently, did not agree. Within hours of publication, the story was generating furious responses. The popular blog Feministing called the piece a “rape denialism manifesto,” and accused Yoffe of “blaming women for their own rapes.” Salon called the piece “rape apologia,” and said Yoffe was helping promote “rape culture.” Writer Jessica Valenti tweeted, “I hope Emily Yoffe can sleep well tonight knowing she made the world a little bit safer for rapists.” These responses are distressing. The link between drinking and the risk of sexual assault is indisputable. And teaching women this fact should be seen as empowering, not victim-blaming.
“As Yoffe wrote, sexual assault is horrifyingly common on college campuses. A full 20 percent of college women will be sexually assaulted before graduation (men are not immune either; 1 in 10 rape victims are male). Eighty percent of the time, alcohol will be involved. “Most sexual assaults occurred after women voluntarily consumed alcohol,” reported a study in theAmerican Journal of College Health. Another study published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs showed that colleges with the most drinking had the highest rates of sexual assault.
“The high proportion of rapes found to occur when women were intoxicated indicates the need for alcohol prevention programs on campuses that address sexual assault, both to educate men about what constitutes rape and to advise women of risky situations,” it concluded. Regrettably, Yoffe did not write about the first part of this prescription: educating men about alcohol and rape. Men need this education just as much as women. Drunk young men are also at higher risk of violence, sexual and otherwise. Men also need to understand that having sex with an incapacitated woman is rape, pure and simple. Some colleges are beginning to address this in increasingly creative ways. The University of California, Los Angeles’ 7000 in Solidarity Campaign asks students to sign a pledge promising to practice consent and to intervene when witnessing non-consensual sexual activity. The University of Oregon’s anti-sexual assault initiative prints drink coasters with information about the definition of sexual consent, which it distributes to popular local student bars.”