WSJ writer James Taranto blames intoxicated rape victims for their own assaults

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Image via Media Matters

*Trigger warning*

James Taranto’s made up War on Men persists. In his column for the Wall Street Journal yesterday, Taranto went even further than Emily “drunk women should expect to be assaulted” Yoffe.

He argued that women who drink and are forced to have sex against their will are not only at fault for their assault, but are equally guilty of a crime.

What is called the problem of “sexual assault” on campus is in large part a problem of reckless alcohol consumption, by men and women alike.

It’s an ugly page from the rape-culture-victim-blaming playbook. A piss-poor assertion that perpetrators have no self-control over their actions, and their inability and bad judgment means they fail to comprehend the word “no.” Consent must be fuzzy. So it’s everyone’s fault.

The facts are not on his side. Media Matters’ points to a National Institutes of Health report:

The fact that alcohol consumption and sexual assault frequently co-occur does not demonstrate that alcohol causes sexual assault.


[M]en are legally and morally responsible for acts of sexual assault they commit, regardless of whether or not they were intoxicated or felt that the woman had led them on previously. The fact that a woman’s alcohol consumption may increase their likelihood of experiencing sexual assault does not make them responsible for the man’s behavior, although such information may empower women when used in prevention programs.

Taranto may try to reframe the issue of campus sexual assault around alcohol consumption, but it’s a straw man argument that we’ve toppled here on this blog and elsewhere. To insist that victims share culpability for their assaults stigmatizes victims and, ultimately, makes them less likely to report these crimes. Taranto’s column comes on the heels of last week’s announcement from President Obama on the new White House task force to end campus rape.

Unfortunately, the WSJ is a platform for Taranto to continue to peddle victim-blaming garbage. And we should respond accordingly. Here’s a link to a petition you can sign to get the WSJ to stop promoting rape culture. It may not lead to his firing, but it will let them know that we are paying attention.

(H/T Media Matters)

sm-bio Syreeta McFadden is tired of having to keep repeat the following: “teach men not to rape.” But she will say it till it stops.

SYREETA MCFADDEN is a Brooklyn based writer, photographer and adjunct professor of English. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, The Guardian, BuzzFeed, The Huffington Post, Religion Dispatches and Storyscape Journal. She is the managing editor of the online literary magazine, Union Station, and a co-curator of Poets in Unexpected Places. You can follow her on Twitter @reetamac.

Syreeta McFadden is a contributing opinion writer for The Guardian US and an editor of Union Station Magazine.

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Join the Conversation

  • Dave

    Posting misogynist bullshit is basically Taranto’s favorite thing to do. Balloon-Juice named him “Asshole of the Century” for a reason:

    And Emily Yoffe has doubled down recently on her victim-blaming, too, and now thinks that bystander intervention training is a bad idea because it will lead women to think bystanders will help prevent rape, so then women will drink more and rapists will rape them more. Or something like that.

  • Shawn Mannen

    According to this “[M]en are legally and morally responsible for acts of sexual assault they commit, regardless of whether or not they were intoxicated”:
    1. If a woman is drunk and has sex, then the man (sober) is the assailant. [Seems accurate based on one's ability to consent while intoxicated.]
    2. If a woman is not drunk and has sex, then the man (drunk) is the assailant. [Seems false based on one's ability to consent while intoxicated. Also, see The Mindy Project 2x01 and 2x02 for an excellent example of this.]
    3. If a woman is drunk and has sex, then the man (drunk) is the assailant. [Seems false based on one's ability to consent while intoxicated. Seems like both parties are at fault.]

    As long as one or more parties are intoxicated the man is the assailant. What happened to equality, consent and the potential for a man to be raped by a woman?

  • Rebecca Griffin

    I’m glad to see there’s such a huge backlash to this article, though I’ve already seen many, many comments from people saying he’s making some good arguments. I wrote about that this morning, that unfortunately he’s expressing a far too common idea in a more blatantly unacceptable way, in a not all exhaustive list of 5 problems with the piece

  • Marie

    Disclaimer: Here I speak ONLY for myself, not for victims of sexual assault. Of course I believe that victims of sexual assault are in no way responsible for what happened to them. I am only referencing my own experiences.

    I think it’s unfair to compare Taranto’s awful, awful comments with Emily Yoffe’s article Yoffe explicitly stated that sexual assaults are not the victim’s fault and was just trying to give advice. If I had had that advice last year, I would not have been put in the position I was in. The truth is that if I had not been drinking, if I had not been surrounded by men who were also not sober, what happened to me wouldn’t have happened. Just like how if my friends didn’t keep telling me that sex was so great and I HAD to try it, I would not have had sex and I would not have been traumatized. I wish my life had taken that trajectory. I wish those things had not happened. Of course, my partners will never get any kind of punishment, because I have no proof of wrongdoing.

    I guess my point is that the sexual partners I’ve had did not care about my well-being at all, but that does not make them monsters. They’re just guys with a regular sex drive who wanted to get some. I cannot speak to an actual survivors’ experiences, and I’m sure they are far worse than mine, and of course they should not be blamed. But I wish every day that some had told me it’s a bad idea to get drunk around guys who may take advantage of you.