“Dear Prudence” columnist publishes rape denialism manifesto advising women to “stop getting drunk”

Emily Yoffe aka Slate advice columnist “Prudence” is a rape denialist. We’ve known this for years because she repeatedly denies clear instances of rape in her advice column. But until she published this morning’s rape denialism manifesto on Slate, lamenting that a “misplaced fear of blaming the victim has made it somehow unacceptable” to warn women of the dangers of drinking, we didn’t know just how bad it actually was. 

It’s hard to know where to start with this terrible and dangerous column (which we will *not* be linking to), so I’ll start where Yoffe does. Bemoaning “one awful high-profile case after another” in which  a young woman “ends up being raped” after drinking, Yoffe  seems to feel as if she is breaking through some kind of political correctness taboo by letting the women of the world know that “when they render themselves defenseless, terrible things can be done to them”.

Unfortunately, blaming women for their own rapes is the oldest, most pernicious trick in the book. It’s not new or edgy, though in this case it almost certainly made for a clicky and profitable #slatepitch.

“A common denominator in these cases is alcohol,” she writes conclusively, as if the existence of actual rapists is besides the point.

Frankly, I’m tired of spilling ink over this. Alexandra wrote a definitive takedown of this kind of rape denialism here, documenting Yoffe’s long history of rape denialism (with backing by Slate) in a letter to the high-profile columnist:

“Your approach to alcohol and rape, however, has never been too concerned with details or variability between situations. Instead, you’ve been content to apply a blanket policy of rape apologia regardless of circumstance. This is the fourth letter in 12 months you’ve answered about a woman deeply affected by unremembered intercourse, and the third time you’ve insisted that such acts constitute an irresponsible drinker’s comeuppance or a fun, harmless night (a la Knocked Up, which you imply in your most recent rep column is representative of drunk sex generally)—but almost never rape.”

Alexandra cites cases in which Yoffe alternately discourages pressing charges against a man the writer believes raped her while she was drunk because “trying to ruin someone else’s life is a poor way to address one’s alcohol and self-control problems”; laughs off a woman who had been raped by her husband as “prim, punctilious, punitive” because her story doesn’t sound like a Law & Order plot; and, unsurprisingly, talks extensively about how women set themselves up for assault by drinking.

As Alexandra wrote, doubting a given account doesn’t automatically make one a rape denialist, but a consistent track record of dismissing alleged assaults because the victims were drunk does. Alexandra concludes, and after this latest manifesto it’s hard to argue the point, that Yoffe “betrays all survivors” with her flippant attitude and hyper focus on women’s behavior rather than that of their rapists. 

Perhaps more than Yoffe herself, I’m disgusted at Slate editors for playing host to this vile line of thought, so commonly debunked for years, by feminists of many stripes. This is not journalism. This is not a new, provocative, or worthwhile argument. This is plain old victim-blaming. We’ve said it before and we’ll keep saying it: rape is the fault of rapists, and no one else. Your shoddy attempts to say otherwise, however couched in faux-concern for women, debase and blame survivors of sexual assault and women everywhere and lend credence to criminals.

Lori Adelman is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Partnerships & Outreach. She has never before used “#slatepitch” in a sentence, and hopes to never do so again. 



Brooklyn, NY

Lori Adelman is Executive Director of Partnerships at Feministing, where she enjoys creating and curating content on gender, race, class, technology, and the media. Lori is also an advocacy and communications professional specializing in sexual and reproductive rights and health, and currently works in the Global Division of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. A graduate of Harvard University, she lives in Brooklyn.

Lori Adelman is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Partnerships.

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  • http://feministing.com/members/lizzyc23/ Lizzy

    I found this article after reading Yoffe’s article in Slate, and I must say I’m a little surprised by this reaction. I am not a long-time reader of Yoffe and you say that this is just one in a long line of rape-denying articles, so I will not defend Yoffe or her positions. However, it seems like your distaste for Yoffe blinded you to the fact that she does make some good points. I do believe that there is a value in discussing the dangers of drinking too much, especially with college-aged women. I am a feminist, and I absolutely 100% know that the only person responsible in a sexual assault or rape case is the perpetrator. I would never argue against that. Blaming the victim is wrong. End of story.

    With that said, I do agree that young women should at least be aware of the fact that there are bad people out there and that when they make themselves more vulnerable they are placing themselves in greater danger. Now vulnerable doesn’t necessarily mean drunk. Someone is vulnerable when they are walking alone at night or when they are in an unfamiliar setting where they don’t know anyone. That doesn’t mean it’s someone’s FAULT if they are attacked. Certainly it’s still the fault of the assailant. But we tell our children to protect themselves – don’t talk to strangers, look both ways before crossing the street, etc. – so why is it so offensive to suggest telling our daughters to be careful at parties and bars?

    I’m not saying, as Yoffe says in her article, that we need to tell all women they are only allowed to have 2 drinks a night or they run the risk of being raped. But why is it so bad for a parent to point out the very well-established link between alcohol consumption and sexual assault? I know that in an ideal world we wouldn’t have to point things like this out because our society would not allow for rapists to walk among us. But the truth of the matter is that we live a world that is far from ideal, and I don’t see how warning our daughters, our friends, our sisters about the dangers that exist in this world is anti-feminist.

    Perhaps I misunderstand your point, but what I take away from both articles is that women are being sexually assaulted on college campuses more than ever before and we have an opportunity to start a discussion to help women combat this. We may need to work on our verbiage a bit, because I would not want to frame the discussion in a way that places potential blame on a female victim. But if knowledge is power, shouldn’t we welcome a discussion that has the potential to enlighten and thus empower women?

  • http://feministing.com/members/anappleofdiscord/ Jennifer Heineman

    In one of the original articles for Slate, Yoffe implies that “infantilization” is, in part, to blame for rape. She claims that women become infantilized when their drunkenness is not scrutinized in cases of rape.

    Apologies if I’m way off base, but if being infantile is to blame for rape, doesn’t it logically follow that in the case of child rape, Yoffe would argue that said children are as responsible for their victimization as their perpetrators (considering children are, by definition, infantile)?


  • http://feministing.com/members/bagofcorn/ Lindsay

    I read Slate every day and was just shocked and infuriated that they posted this crap. For what it’s worth, I also wrote a letter to Slate and Ms. Yoffe telling them why they should not be posting articles that reinforce rape culture.

  • http://feministing.com/members/dangerdyke45/ Lauren Donna Graham

    This constant putting the blame on rape victims sometimes makes me wonder if old Prudy is really a man. In a recent study, males in colleges across the country were given a questionnaire to be filled out anonymously, asking the question; if they knew that they could absolutely get away with it, would they rape a woman. Nearly 70 percent said that they would. A similar questionnaire done a number of years ago had the same results. Here is something for rape apologists to chew on; I should be able to walk down a dark street, naked and drunk and not get raped. Forget the lame excuses about women being drunk, etc., no one has the right to touch a woman without her permission, ever. If you guys can’t control yourselves, perhaps you shouldn’t be out loose on the streets.