More on why victim blaming is not a good way to prevent binge drinking

*Trigger warning*

Yesterday was a wake up call for me about the pervasiveness of rape culture. Victim blaming is so ingrained it shows up in the views of well meaning people, like Keli Goff, who are trying to prevent rape. The “avoid risky behaviors” meme was called out twice, first with the original PA Liquor Board ad and then with Goff’s response. Yet folks continue restating the same line in comments, tweets – all over the internet.

Is this conversation really necessary? Does anyone think women aren’t constantly afraid we might be the victim of a sexual assault? That we aren’t always on edge anyway? The threat of stranger rape is a constant topic of conversation among my female friends (especially the ones who aren’t feminist organizers). This is what it’s like to live in a rape culture.

Arguing that the focus should be on not drinking so we don’t get raped is called perpetuating rape culture. It’s saying hey, if you avoided these behaviors you could have avoided being raped. When anyone, including feminists, puts their focus on preventing rape by avoiding risky behaviors they are putting the responsibility for avoiding rape on the shoulders of the victim.

And it doesn’t work. You can’t prevent rape by not drinking. You might be able to prevent alcoholism by not drinking, alcohol poisoning, drunk driving. But you can’t prevent rape by not drinking, just like you can’t prevent rape by not wearing a short skirt. You can probably prevent rape by not being in the world at all and never interacting with other people. Which is what rape culture wants to do – take away your humanity.

I’ve noticed the supposed prevention tactics people keep bringing up – don’t go out binge drinking, don’t wear a short skirt, don’t walk down the street alone – pack the widespread assumption that rape is committed by strangers. But in fact, 77% of rapes are committed by an acquaintance.

Of course, victim blaming dominates the dialogue around acquaintance rape, too. The alcohol argument here is that everyone was just too drunk to be sure what they were doing – the rapist didn’t realize they were doing anything wrong and the person who was raped was too drunk to say no. When we focus on avoiding risky behaviors instead of always prioritizing consent, this line of reasoning works. Because being drunk is the risk. Hell, if someone gets drinks pushed on them by the rapist we still blame them for getting drunk. We’re basically telling rapists they can get away with it when the lines of consent are hazy, that they should target drunk people.

If we were having a conversation about prevention based on the reality of rape, we’d be talking a lot less about going out binge drinking and instead telling women they should never go on dates and work exclusively from home. Now, there are plenty of folks who think that if two people have dinner together there’s no need for consent, but I hope feminism’s been successful enough that most readers get that this is bullshit. So why do we think it’s OK to tell women drinking makes them vulnerable?

This is the conversation rape culture wants us to have. How about instead we put the responsibility on the shoulders of the rapists?

The risky behavior talk needs to stop. It’s not helping, at all. It’s extraordinarily insulting to survivors – and people who have dealt with the real dangers of alcoholism. The original PA Liquor Board ad used the threat of rape as a scare tactic to keep women from binge drinking. (Another part of the problem – risky behavior campaigns only target women as potential victims, since we’re fine with limiting women’s options but not men’s). That’s how easily we default to victim blaming, even when it’s not actually relevant. As a result we’re not even having a real dialogue around the dangers of alcoholism. Yes, I’m saying Goff hurt her own crusade against binge drinking. Getting drunk can be a bad idea for a whole host of reasons and that is a conversation to have. But the one that says getting drunk makes other people a danger to you? Not so much.

You really want to talk about drinking and rape? Well, in 1 in 3 sexual assaults the perpetator was intoxicated. I still don’t think it’s the smartest prevention campaign, but at least it would be based on facts and put the blame on the right person.

To counter rape culture, we need to build a culture of consent. We need the default to be that it’s not OK to rape someone if they’re drunk. We need to prioritize positive consent always, and this needs to permeate feminist discourse, any future campaigns from agencies like the PA Liquor Board, and make its way to the courts and court of public opinion. We need support networks that don’t let rapists get away with blaming alcohol.  We need cultural change.

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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