Keli Goff, champion of victim blamers everywhere

*Trigger warning*

Yesterday Keli Goff dedicated her column space at Loop 21 and screen time on The Dylan Ratigan Show to championing victim blaming. And she did so while claiming she wasn’t actually blaming the victim, which makes other people think their own victim blaming attitude is OK.

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Goff felt the need to defend the PA Liquor Board’s terrible ad blaming people who drink for getting raped. Yes, that is what’s happening in this ad. The thin, smooth, white legs curled seductively say the woman sprawled on the bathroom floor is asking for it.

Goff’s argument is a conflation of two facts: binge drinking is dangerous, and rape happens. No, it’s not a great idea to poison yourself, impair your judgment, or become a greater threat to yourself and others (Which is why people who might commit rape in that situation should avoid drinking too much. Where’s that ad campaign?). If Goff wants to have a serious conversation about drinking culture that’s one thing. But this conversation keeps being super gendered, and tends to be about how women are putting themselves at risk.

Which, to be clear, is bullshit. Drinking too much doesn’t cause rape, just like a short skirt or sexy dancing or walking down the street or sweat pants don’t cause rape. Goff thinks she gets this. But when you say to someone well, if you don’t do that thing you might be able to prevent a rape? Guess what? You are blaming the victim. You are saying the person who did drink too much the night she got raped is responsible, because hey, could have been prevented.

There is a conversation to be had about drinking and rape culture. It’s about a culture that trains people who rape (mostly men, but let’s be clear that sexual violence doesn’t discriminate) to seek out people who can’t give consent – and the fact that many, many people think this is hook up culture, not rape culture (you don’t need me to OK hooking up if it’s consensual, do you?). Yes, people often don’t realize they’re committing rape. Or even that they’ve been raped. Putting the responsibility (read: blame) on the person who gets raped ignores what’s actually happening here, that someone doesn’t think they need consent.

We’re not even having that conversation in a big way in feminist spaces. We’re certainly not talking about it in the mainstream, where the victim blaming meme needs no help. There are a ton of unapproved comments on the original Community post about the ad parroting the same victim blaming line (the Feministing crew has no problem censoring victim blaming, and yes we do get to decide what victim blaming is on our own blog). Goff just used her microphone to give these people a voice and tell them their view is legitimate, that they really aren’t victim blamers. When what we so badly need is a different conversation.

Boston, MA

Jos Truitt is Executive Director of Development at Feministing. She joined the team in July 2009, became an Editor in August 2011, and Executive Director in September 2013. She writes about a range of topics including transgender issues, abortion access, and media representation. Jos first got involved with organizing when she led a walk out against the Iraq war at her high school, the Boston Arts Academy. She was introduced to the reproductive justice movement while at Hampshire College, where she organized the Civil Liberties and Public Policy Program’s annual reproductive justice conference. She has worked on the National Abortion Federation’s hotline, was a Field Organizer at Choice USA, and has volunteered as a Pro-Choice Clinic Escort. Jos has written for publications including The Guardian, Bilerico, RH Reality Check, Metro Weekly, and the Columbia Journalism Review. She has spoken and trained at numerous national conferences and college campuses about trans issues, reproductive justice, blogging, feminism, and grassroots organizing. Jos completed her MFA in Printmaking at the San Francisco Art Institute in Spring 2013. In her "spare time" she likes to bake and work on projects about mermaids.

Jos Truitt is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Development.

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  • Stella

    I think this is a really difficult issue. I agree with you that logically, when you say someone can reduce the risk of being raped (being the victim of a crime) by avoiding a (perfectly legal) behavior, you are implicitly saying that someone who did the behavior increased their risk of rape and is therefore partially responsible for it…

    ….but I have to say, I’m not entirely comfortable with the idea that women should not be given access to true information about circumstances in which they are likely to be harmed so they can act on that information if they want to.

    I’m just curious how you square your position on this issue (that it is always victim-blaming to advise women to avoid or minimize their presence in certain situations or places in which rapes happen often in order to reduce the risk of being a victim) with other, non-gendered scenarios in which we advise people certain behavior increase the risk of certain outcomes.

    For example, is telling someone to not walk alone at night in an area known for muggings the same as blaming mugging victims? I don’t think so — people have a right to walk in public at night without being the victim of a crime, and the only person who should be punished or blamed for a mugging is the mugger. But I personally still want to know where muggings happen. And then I can decide if I want to walk there or not depending on my own risks/benefit analysis.

    I instinctively agree with you that there is a difference here, but I can’t seem to identify what it is. Maybe it does just go back to discrimination — somehow we know that only WOMEN are being asked to avoid certain behaviors because of a risk of getting raped. And the suspicion that rape is being used as a tool to exclude women from those behaviors that men are perfectly free to do….


    • Cynthia Simpson

      My thought is, Stella, that you did not understand this article, therefore you probably still don’t understand the concept of victim-blaming.

      I suggest you re-read paragraph three of this article….that’s where the key point is made.

      The point is that it is critical not to conflate (as the article points out) two entirely separate things: the danger of certain behaviors and that rape happens.

      • Stella

        Just to be clear, I did understand the article and in my post I mentioned that I agreed that this ad campaign was anti-woman and very offensive. My question was a sincere attempt to understand WHY the campaign is so disturbing if, in fact, rape does happen to be slightly more prevalent in situations involving alcohol (that might not be true, but assuming it is). And I think one of the best answers in the comments is the fact that there are no such ads aimed at men (either warning them that they might be a victim OR a perpetrator of rape when drunk and thus should avoid it).

        All I’m saying is that we should be able to have a constructive discussion about the issue of whether, if in fact there are strategies to lessen one’s chance of being a victim of rape (which I can see from the comments is itself debatable), it is BY ITSELF victim blaming to talk about the existence of those strategies.

        I do see a strong argument for the position that putting the burden on some people to have strategies to protect themselves from a crime — especially when those people are all of one gender — is in effect playing into the gendered power dynamic that is behind rape culture. But again, if there is true evidence that certain situations rapists tend to strike more, I think it is creepy to suppress that information.

  • Cheryl Anne

    Let me be completely honest here – I think this article is a bit too critical of Goff’s words. I also think that this over analytic, cynical attitude toward something so miniscule is exactly the reason we have bed reputations as feminists. I think half of the reason many people probably got mad over this in the first place is because she said they would get mad, and she continued to speak openly anyway. Clearly she wasn’t wrong.

    But anyway, back to the video and the facts: It is true that as women we should be able to feel 150% safe in every situation, whether we’re drinking, walking down the street, taking the subway, what have you; however, there are people in this world that WANT to victimize women. We need to be aware that these people exist, and though we should not have to, we need to take certain precautions because of their existence. THESE people are the people to be blamed for rape (not the victim). But it is also a known fact that many rape cases occurred when the victim and/or rapist were under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Drugs and alcohol increase the risk of rape, plain and simple. I do not believe for a second that if you want to avoid rape, you shouldn’t drink; but be aware that if you are drinking, you need to be careful. You need to be more careful about everything when you’re under the influence of alcohol or drugs. You especially need to make sure that you’re with people you know and trust. Saying this does not place women at blame for being raped, it’s just making them more aware of the FACTS: they are more at risk, especially women living on a college campus. Alcohol also will disinhibit the perpetrator, making them more likely to act agressively regarding their sexual desires/desires for power (power is what most cases of rape are actually about anyway). It’s much easier to gain power over someone who is extremely intoxicated. Making women aware of these statistics, AGAIN, is absolutely not blaming them. It’s empowering them to lessen their risk of being raped or sexually assaulted. I mean, be honest: do you get uncontrollably intoxicated with people you don’t have complete trust with? Are you ever on the verge of passing out on the walk home alone from the bar? Would you down a bottle on second or third date with a man you’re still getting to know? Probably not. But why? Oh, maybe because you’re aware that you could be at risk of some physical harm if you’re too intoxicated.
    As for the ads, they are completely ridiculous – and the reason for that is because they are sexualizing violence (once again, what a surprise!). Panties around the ankles…really? We didn’t need to see that. We know what date rape is; thanks. The risks of drinking didn’t need to be advertised that way. The could have found a better way to warn EVERYONE about the risks of drinking, not just put women in fear of being victimized. Maybe they could have shown a man being arrested for committing a sexual crime while drunk? Maybe they could have illustrated the point without any illustration at all. But that’s just not as edgy.
    What the real disturbing thing here is, is violence being sexualized. Until the media stops glorfying sexual violence (and other types of violence against women), the men that commit these crimes won’t stop feeling as though it’s okay to do so.

    • Gabi

      First, sorry that you see attempts to thoughtfully and fully criticize and breakdown rape culture, probably one of the largest issues facing the feminist and entire female community today, as an “over analytic, cynical attitude toward something so miniscule” instead of as foundational feminist theory.

      Second, I think that you and the other commenters, who claim to “get” this post don’t get it at all, and by “it” I mean what consent actually means. I’ll let Angus Johnston from Student Activism say it since he does so well.

      “The concept of affirmative consent, in contrast, preserves the idea that consent is binary while articulating the definitional shift that’s taking place. As Marcella at abyss2hope puts it, traditional consent defines consent as “opt out,” and affirmative consent defines it as “opt in.”

      What does this mean?

      Well, it means that in a traditional definition of consent, a person initiating sexual activity is free to operate under the assumption that consent exists until consent is explicitly withdrawn. When you initiate sexual contact, you’re presumed to have a green light to keep moving forward until you’re told to stop.

      Under an affirmative consent model, consent can never be assumed. It must always be confirmed. Both parties must “opt in” for consent to exist. When you initiate sexual contact, you have an obligation to pay attention as you go to whether your partner is receptive.”

      Therefore if we followed this model, we would shift the blame from the victim for not fighting hard enough against someone who performed something against her will, and on both parties to actively seek consent from their partner. Since proactive consent makes for not only safer sex but more enjoyable sex.

      quote from

      • Gabi

        By the way this affirmative consent model holds no matter what state of mind a person is in, and remember, it’s not only alcohol which can impair your ability to give consent, but lack of sleep, stress, or many other situations. So maybe women should be told not to fall asleep around people because then it will be their fault if they get raped in their sleep.

        Additionally your allegation “do you get uncontrollably intoxicated with people you don’t have complete trust with?” does not hold when you note that in over 70% of sexual assaults, the victim knows their perpetrator, so one would assume there is some level of trust there. I would get drunk around people I don’t “have complete trust with,” because if I didn’t I think the only people I could drink with are my parents.

  • Aurora

    Whoa, Stella took the words *right* out of my mouth. I feel like a lot of people on the internet get all up in arms anytime someone says that, in this non-ideal world of ours, some behaviors, ways of dressing, locations, etc. raise the risk for bad things to happen to you. I have every right to listen to my iPod as I walk, but I’m going to think twice about doing it when I’m heading home at 1 AM from a party by myself.

    Studies have shown time and again that criminals look for certain behaviors to pick out targets. For muggers, the trends tend toward people who are alone, who are distracted (music, texting, etc.), and who look scared or overly wary.

    If you are female, and you go to a bar completely alone, and you get horribly drunk, and you’re wearing clothing that attracts male attention by showing off skin (whether this *should* be the case or not, is moot — it does happen, and it’s a fact of life, even if we can try to change that fact over time), and then you leave alone in the middle of the night, you’re not exactly showing the most cautious of behaviors. Moral judgments completely aside — they’re really a moot point here — there are behaviors that you performed that raised your odds of looking like a target, enough for you to have been targeted.

    Is it your *fault*? No. No one says “omg men can’t choose to restrain themselves, so look out, little girl!” What people are saying, is that bad people exist, and you should probably choose behaviors that minimize the attention they give you, so that they don’t do bad things to you. It’s the same for muggers, rapists, whatever — if you don’t look like a target, chances are you won’t be targeted, and it keeps you safer.

    I also don’t think people are trying to say that women should never drink, or never wear short skirts, or whatever. There’s a time and place for everything, though — it’s advisable to only do certain behaviors where you feel safe and comfortable doing so. In an ideal world, that would be anywhere, but…well, this isn’t an ideal world.

    • Cynthia Simpson

      Aurora, you just made the perfect argument for burqua-wearing by all women at all times and places.

      Re-read paragraph 3 of the article again. The writer is very clear on how important it is not to conflate (put together, combine) two things that need to be separated: that some behaviors are dangerous and that rape happens.

      • Aurora

        It is *quite* important to make a distinction, most definitely. There is a very fine line between saying, “There are behaviors you can do, that will help keep you safe,” and “IT’S ALL YOUR FAULT.” They sound a lot alike, but they’re not the same sentiment. It’s a matter of getting the right meaning through.

        As for burquas, here’s why what I’m saying is *not* that. To use the mugging analogy, the equivalent of wearing a burqua here, would be to lock yourself in your house and never go out for fear of getting robbed. It’s the most paranoid case, and I’d certainly not recommend someone doing it just because they’re afraid of crime. This is an extreme interpretation of my statements, which was not at all meant. There are degrees of precautions here. Sure, you could take every pain you possibly could to avoid men and avoid attracting their attention. Or, you could do a minimum amount to avoid the most risky types of attention in the most risky places, which isn’t too much trouble, and in that way you’re essentially optimizing your effort vs. general risk level.

        I think the latter is generally wise in almost every situation that involves risk, which is just about anything you could do in life.

    • Tiffany

      This is such bull. Like someone else said reread the third paragraph. Minimize looking like a target? Are you kidding? Let me guess. You also are of the variety who think unattractive girls get raped? Or like women in burquas never get raped? Rape has nothing to do with how someones dressed or how much skin theyre showing. It has to do with power. its not moot and yes you are placing the fault with the victim because you think they have any agency in bringing on a rape situation.

      • Aurora

        Hi, I’m a woman, and I think that people all shapes, sizes, ages, attractiveness, etc. can be and are raped, and that this is terrible. I’m liberal, feminist, and work in the sciences, I could go on and on. Make some more assumptions and/or stereotypes, please.

        One really can’t ever make the case that a rape was preventable. Who would have known that? I guess you could say that if women never left their houses, their chances might be lower? That’s ridiculous, and I’d never bother with such an argument.

        But as for me, I will attempt to do what I can, *within reason*, to decrease the risk in this one area of my life. Would you tell women not to learn self-defense, in case someone were to make an unwanted advance on them? I hope not. Would you encourage them to behave in ways they might consider unsafe, or in an unsafe environment, just because “it’s never their fault if something happens”? No.

        I’m not bringing moral judgments into this. It’s not about “you dumb slut, you could have prevented this.” It’s about “Terrible things can happen, but if you take a few steps to be safe, the odds of them happening are lower.” The focus here is not on what someone *could have done* (a blaming, after-the-fact view), but on what they *can try to do* (a proactive, risk-mitigating view). There are no promises here that the mitigating steps will be enough. There are also no extremist statements about burquas or locking oneself in the house.

        I understand that the dialogue for both of these cases sounds a lot alike, and I think that’s what’s screwing up the arguments on both sides. It’s really easy to transition from “here’s a way to be safer” to “because you didn’t do that, you’re a bad person.” The key is to stop before the second statement.

        The other key is to not *assume* that the second statement is being said, when it isn’t.

  • Katherine

    I think it’s also because men do not have the fear that women have about being raped. Our culture has come to view rape as something that happens and women just have to accept it and make appropriate accommodations to avoid it.
    It’s not the men who have to make sure to have two other friends with them when they go to bars or parties to make sure no one slips roofies in their drink or watch them to make sure some guy doesn’t take advantage of them.
    And the ad campaign is definitely targeted at women. Women are the people who have to watch their behavior.
    There are no campaigns out there showing how a man should not rape a woman. Or even showing that taking advantage of a woman (no matter her state) is wrong.
    I want to see an ad campaign showing a man about to take advantage of a drunk woman with police sirens starting to go off in the background.
    Education is good. But education specifically targeted at showing how a woman getting drunk is an automatic okay for a man to rape her is wrong.

    • lilu

      oh my gosh, i rarely get to be this proud that i’m from Edmonton, Alberta (not always known for the most progressive policies) but THERE IS ONE! and I saw it plastered all over the walls of the university! it makes me so happy! finally an ad telling men not to be rapists instead of one telling women not to get drunk!

      • Katie

        That poster is AWESOME! It seems an entire campaign could be structured around the idea that just because a woman is intoxicated, she is not fair game. “If she’s too drunk to say no, it’s rape.”

      • Jenny Gonzalez-Blitz

        Very cool! Let’s see how viral we can make it. :)

  • Rachel

    What you said in your last paragraph. Women are almost exclusively targeted and asked to avoid certain behaviors, the avoidance of which also fails to guarantee thier safety. If we saw equal airtime for ads convincing rapists to not rape people, we could then have a fair discussion about which steps women ought to take to be safer.

    • Jos

      Exactly! Does anyone seriously think women aren’t hearing enough voices say we should avoid existing in the world so we can avoid getting raped? And guess what? It doesn’t work!

  • Cate

    In all fairness, the wording of the ad was very careful not blame the actual rape victim for her rape. The ad blamed all of her girlfriends who went out drinking with the rape victim for the rape.

    I think that PA Liquor Control Board realized that flat-out blaming the victim is wrong, but they looked around for someone else to blame and, instead of looking at the rapist, looked at other women in the room. They are still, I think, incorrect, because really the person to blame for the rape is the rapist, but I think your characterization of what they said in the ads is not quite right.

  • Kelly

    Would we ever see a poster with a handsome man leaving a dormroom stating something like, “Warning: Drinking may make you more capable of committing rape” ? Isn’t that the heart of this argument? We are talking to the victims about how to be more careful victims, rather than talking to those committing the crimes about how to prevent criminal behavior.

  • Taruna Arora

    You raise a good point, Ella but the problem with telling women to dress a certain way is that there is no evidence to suggest that women who wear revealing clothing or engage in binge drinking are more likely to get raped than their counterparts who avoid such behaviours. While walking alone in a dark alley does put one at an increased risk of being mugged, wearing a short skirt doesn’t necessarily place a woman at a higher risk of being assaulted sexually. Rape is about control, power, and exploitation and not about finding an inebriated woman in a short skirt. And this is where blaming the victim or telling women that their attire or behaviour was a contributing factor to their rape is flawed as reasoning.

  • Jenny Gonzalez-Blitz

    Oh, I already wrote a screed about this author’s drivel over on the post with the Twitter screencaps, including what flaws and limitations I saw in the argument as she presented it.

  • Jos

    While moderating comments I realized a lot of you are thinking of rape as a crime committed by a stranger. The victim blaming logic is still completely not OK in that case, just to be clear. But in fact, 77% of rapes are committed by an acquaintance. Only 2% of acquaintance rapes are reported to the police as opposed to 21% of rapes by strangers, and when you think about those numbers you realize 77% is probably an incredibly low estimate.

    Just to be clear, victim blaming dominates the dialogue around acquaintance rape too. It’s a fact worth bringing up, though, because it reinforces how off our image of rape is. This is why there are so many people out there who commit rape and don’t realize it. And this is why we need a culture that is focused on consent, not fucking avoiding risky behaviors, which does not work anyway. We need to teach people to prioritize consent everywhere, including in their intimate relationships, which is where the majority of rapes are occurring.

  • Stephanie

    I agree that feminism does not talk about this issue enough.

    The SlutWalks were awesome, but its just not enough.

    Universities should make “Yes Means Yes” events (or the like) mandatory. Or something. There is way too much rape going on, and way too much victim-blaming. Ugh.

  • Tiffany

    I think its shocking that this point still hasn’t been able to be grasped by most people (I don’t mean here/in the comments, I mean in general). Then again when ads like this keep getting OK’d it’s not surprising.

    In my required Uni kines course I remember getting to the subject of binge drinking and ugh I could barely sit through that week. The same crap was given to us – targeting women, acting like the offendor would be a stranger. Last time I checked binge drinking affects anyone with a blood flow and a shot glass to their mouth. I’m not advocating binge drinking, but yeah, there were those college weekends where my friends and I wanted to get drunk. Not going to hide it or deny it. People (professors, health teachers, advertising companies) perpetuate this myth that having a vagina and putting alcohol in your system is a recipe for rape. Men go around thinking they can tolerate SOOO much liquor when poor, little women folk need to be wary and are suggested to stick to a couple “bitch drinks” (*rolls eyes* the fact we even separate types of drinks into “mens drinks” and “girly drinks” I think is a testament to this crap). Why do we keep thinking this? Because it’s what we’re told. What we’re not being told is that rape has nothing to do with alcohol, what type of top you’re wearing, alcohol, how high your heels are, alcohol, the way you did your make up. What we’re not being told is that the agency lies with the rapist. What we’re not being told is that this is about power, not hooking up, sexual attraction or how horny someone is.

    And, I might add, the main reason why when you go to clubs, bars, pubs, taverns, etc and you get men flirting with you and constantly buying you drinks is because of advertisements and lessons like this. We get told the agency is with the drunk female and that it’s not rape it’s just sex, why the hell do people think there are so many songs about “getting women drunk” so you can have a good fuck? Why do people think the first thing men do at a club is start buying women shots? Why do people think ‘a good line’ is to invite a woman over for drinks?

    Anyways, at the end of the semester my prof asked us all for some comments about the course. I started talking about a different topic we covered, pregnancy, and about how we should talk more about prevention to both men and women, and she took that as a segue into “preventing rape by not binge drinking.” The hell? I said, no, and with that topic I think we should focus more on men as opposed to telling women things that make the world think rape is in their control, and she goes “Yes like always having a condom on you!” Another classmate got what I was saying (phew) and spoke about the Green Dot program at our Uni.

    I also wrote about this same class here (sorry not too savvy with HTML)

    Definitely think there needs to be a mandatory Yes Means Yes at Uni’s as well.

  • Jenny


    Can we just have a large movement about redefining consent?

    For pete’s sake, I was in a women’s studies class a few weeks ago and the topic of victim-blaming came up. One woman ardently accused women of being guilty for causing men to be attracted to them via “mixed signals.” Another woman chimed in, ” I don’t know… Sometimes I say no and pretend when I really mean yes. I guess guys just get confused.”
    This was me: o_O Have you all learned NOTHING?! Why, when faced with this “mixed signals” non-dilemma, aren’t people quick to say, “mixed signals? You were confused? Why didn’t you JUST ASK?!”

    Let’s talk about con-sent, bay-bee.

  • Franzia Kafka

    Sigh. This “you-drunk-ladies-are-so-irresponsible-and-also-binge-drinking-is-bad-and-you-can’t-argue-with-me-about-that” shit never fails to amaze me. We shouldn’t even have to keep pointing out that there are no “Hey, menz, don’t get drunk because you might rape somebody” ads. The fact that so many similar behavior-modification ads (as I’ll call them) aimed toward women have an invariably moralizing, paternalistic tone betrays our cultural biases and prevailing normalized gender expectations in dealing with rape. This occurs not only with rape prevention. It occurs with a multitude of moral issues, from consensual casual sex to pregnancy/abortion to childhood obesity and women’s weight/appearance. Nobody ever blames emotionally abusive boyfriends for harming fetuses; they blame women. Nobody ever blames fathers who haul junk food into the house for fat children; they blame women, who are supposed to do the cooking. If your father beat you as a child, then you must have had a *mother* who *allowed* him to. MEN OFTEN HARDLY EVEN EXIST IN MORAL/BEHAVIOR-MODIFICATION CONVERSATIONS, AS THOUGH THEY DO NOT EVEN BELONG TO THE SAME MORAL UNIVERSE. At the heart of it, ads like this one are about gendered expectations. Women have CARE-TAKING responsibilities dumped onto them at every turn, expectations to “care” constantly – not only to “care” about themselves, but to “care” for others. If we can turn a conversation about male rapists into a conversation about women not taking good enough “care” of themselves, we will – and almost always do.

    Further, risk-taking behaviors, such as binge-drinking, are still seen as much more socially acceptable for men than for women. Nobody ever asks men if they know why they pay so much for car insurance (because they take more stupid driving risks than women). That would upset people. But ask women if they know why they get raped, then say that it’s because they took a risk and got drunk with their friends – A-OK! And, on top of that, ladies, you should know better than to have a glass of wine while you’re pregnant – you might hurt “somebody”! You should know better than to eat that dessert – you’ll get fat! This rape ad is simply another piece of the bombardment that women endure urging them to “take better care” of themselves and others, and inducing guilt and inadequacy about the amount of care they do take.

  • Helen Lutke

    I would love to see a male version of this campaign so that people can finally understand the underlying message. If you drink, you do not advocate rape. By drinking, one does not deserve rape more then any other person. Just because one is a women does not make them more deserving to be raped either. Kelly Goff is wrong. Yes, binge drinking is an epidemic for younger women. However, this does not give anyone the right to rape them. When a woman drinks alcohol, she should be allowed to do so without having to worry about rape or sexual assault. Period.

  • athenia

    I have a vagina and an asshole—I’m ALWAYS asking to be raped! /sarcasm