Binge drinking, straw man arguments and rape prevention

In 2007, I went out to a party with my friends. It wasn’t a night where I was drinking more than usual but I had a few cocktails. It was a work night so by the end I was mostly tired more than drunk and just ready to go home.

When I got home, however, I was sexually assaulted. And this is when the term “victim blaming” became a part of my life.

The existence of “victim blaming” was always at arms length until then. It was always happening to someone else, not me. I’m smart. I took self-defense in college. I don’t walk through dark alleys at night. I make sure I’m aware of my surroundings so I am able to make it home when I’m drinking. I make sure I don’t leave with men I don’t know as to not be assaulted by them.

And herein lies the problem. The entire debate the last few weeks about binge drinking and rape is wrong. And as Jos eloquently wrote last week, it’s the wrong conversation.

The argument that feminists overreacted to a sexist anti-drinking advertisement is arguing against a straw man. The straw man being that the feminists who called out the ad for being standard victim blaming were de facto okaying binge drinking. No one made that argument.

The idea that it takes some large amount of courage to “speak out” against an argument that feminists didn’t really make is pretty offensive to me, especially since this issue has affected me in such a personal way. So here are a few arguments that should have been made instead:

1. It doesn’t matter if you are 100% sober, you can still be the victim of a rape.

This should be obvious but unfortunately because women are taught to avoid rape by doing certain things and avoiding others they are lead to believe that they can avoid being a victim. Sure, there are proactive things you can do to keep yourself feeling safe generally, but the problem is that until rapists stop making the decision to rape, there will still be rape victims. Victims can’t be the ones to avoid rape.And that’s why the ad campaigns and PSAs targeting female behavior are so off the mark.

2. All of the “tips” for women are focused on stranger in the alley rape.

I was raped by someone I knew. He was in my apartment because I let him in. I didn’t walk down an alley at night hammered and get jumped and assaulted by a man I had never seen. That is why a PSA about not drinking and the general “we can do A or B” to keep ourselves safe are so woefully inadequate. I would actually argue that it puts us in more danger, not less. Because there are women who probably look at other women like me who couldn’t avoid rape and think to themselves, “It wasn’t me because I didn’t drink so much,” or, “It was her because she was wearing something provocative.” I’m hear to tell you that while it may make you feel safer, you aren’t really safe.

That reality is harsh, I know, but rape prevention should actually prevent rape and be real when it comes to the risk of it happening to you. And the truth is you can’t avoid rape. A woman who is raped was just unlucky enough to be in the same room with a man who chose to commit rape. So those that say don’t drink and walk home in a miniskirt late at night are missing a very important point: he’s not usually in the alley. He’s in your apartment and you let him in. All the proactive behavior in the world isn’t going to protect you from the man that’s already in your house.

3. It’s not as important to make the connection between drinking and rape as it is to make the connection between rapists and rape.

After my rape I was blamed for my assault because I had been drinking. I was told that I shouldn’t have been wearing a short skirt. Or let the man into my apartment even though he was a friend. I was told that if I had just done [insert 100% you would not have been raped if you had just done this piece of advice here] you wouldn’t have been raped.

And all of this is a lie. It’s just a damn lie. I was assaulted because a rapist decided to commit rape. If I had been sober and he chose to rape me guess what? Same result. If I had worn sweatpants and he chose to rape me you guessed it, same result. If I hadn’t let him into my apartment that night you could argue it wouldn’t have happened that particular day, but the problem is he was dating one of my roommates and wasn’t even there on my invitation. So how do I prevent him from being there and in turn prevent the rape? I can’t. And you can’t. And until we focus on the real issue of targeting the people, mostly men, who are committing rape it will continue to happen.

Repeating the same old lines of victim blaming is not brave. It’s dangerous. I don’t want anyone to suffer the same trauma that I have. But I know that 1 in 5 women already have or will in their lifetimes. And telling us not to drink alcohol isn’t doing anything to keep me safe from a man who makes the choice to rape me in my own apartment whether I’m sober or drunk.

Join the Conversation

  • Kristin

    I completely understand what you say when you write about “victim blaming” being at arm’s length until it happens to you. The narrative that follows such an incident is exhausting and only makes you feel more guilty for not preventing something that wasn’t even really preventable in the first place.

  • honeybee

    I’m not trying to be obtuse but can someone explain the different between rape and sexual assault?

    Sometimes I see the words used interchangbly when to me, and legally, they mean very different things.

    Sexual assault is when a stranger gropes you without permission. Rape is when someone penetrates you without consent.

    Before anyone says the distinction matters it does matter. I have been assaulted but not raped. It matters to me to maintain this distinction. The report says that 1 in 5 women have been ASSAULTED, yet here that report is being used to imply that 1 in 5 women have been raped, which is a very different thing in my book.

    Seriously I’m not at all trying to stir the pot – I have wondered about this before and had men and other non-feminists grill me on this before and I never had an answer. Most people upon seeing the terms used interchangeably start to tune out the message b/c they think we are just exagerating to make a point.


  • babysnaakes

    Here you go Honeybee this page details the difference in terms

    The latest info from the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey shows that 1 in 5 women report being the victim of an attempted or completed rape.

  • Claire Kaplan

    Honeybee, I understand your confusion. Sexual assault is a broader term that includes rape, attempted rape, and other forms of sexual violation. So rape is a form of sexual assault but not all sexual assaults are rapes. Folks do use the terms interchangeably, sometimes correctly; other times not. The 1 in 5 statistic refers specifically to rape–the data is from the very recently released study funded by the CDC. Hope that clears things up for you.

    That being said, this is an excellent column. Kudos to Zerlina!

  • Rachel

    Honeybee, I can also understand the confusion. I just wanted to offer another perspective to the (already amazing) perspectives that have been offered in these comments.

    In my experience as a sexual violence survivor, often saying “sexual assault” rather than “rape” can make it a lot easier to handle. Simplistic as it is, rape is an ugly word. Somehow, sexual assault just seems softer to the mind. Especially when you’re trying to put the experience behind you.

  • Zoe

    Because we always talk about the bad anti-rape ads, I want to take this moment to commend the Lambeth Police for their anti-rape campaign, which focuses on the rapist instead of the victim and uses many feminist talking points. Here’s an excerpt:

    “Even if a woman has come back to your home, this doesn’t give you any right to expect sex. Take it slow and make sure that you are both thinking the same, make sure that anything you want to do, your partner also wants to do. If you don’t, the consequences could be severe. It’s your responsibility to make sure that she consents and agrees to sex. If you don’t, then it’s rape.

    A woman can say no to sex at any time. Even if you have already kissed or gone further, you must always respect her right to say no and you must stop. A woman doesn’t have to say no to show that they don’t consent. If there is any question over whether a woman has drunk too much to give consent, assume she hasn’t given it.”

    • Stephanie

      That is awesome.

  • katherine

    i missed this somehow last week. thank you for sharing your story. rape is rape.