New study finds that drinking doesn’t cause sexual aggression, predators target drunk women

A new study backs up what feminists have been saying for approximately ever about the relationship between drinking and rape. Namely, that alcohol–despite its impressive powers–neither magically turns well-meaning kids into sexual aggressors nor makes everything so topsy turvy that nobody has any clue what consent is and if they have it or gave it. Instead, sexual predators deliberately target intoxicated victims. 

NPR reports:

When researchers at the University of Toronto and the University of Washington observed young people’s behavior in bars, they found that the man’s aggressiveness didn’t match his level of intoxication. There was no relationship.

Instead, men targeted women who were intoxicated.

The researchers hired and trained 140 young adults to go into bars in the Toronto area and note every incident of aggression they saw. They found that 25 percent of all incidents involved sexual aggression. And 90 percent of the victims of sexual aggression were women being harassed by men.

So contrary to the myth put forth by everything from Robin Thick’s song “Blurred Lines” to Wall Street Journal writer James Taranto‘s claim that drunken sexual assault is akin to “two drunk drivers…in a collision,” sexual aggression does not just happen because people get drunk and confused. Alcohol is a tool, not a root cause. The study’s author, Kate Graham, says, ”People should stop believing that [Robin Thicke] song. The lines really aren’t that blurred.” And predators know what they’re doing. “If you walk through a bar and grab a woman’s breasts and then disappear into the crowd, that’s probably not a misunderstanding,” Graham says. “You don’t actually think that she wants you to do that.”

The reason this is so important is that the way we understand these dynamics has real-world consequences for how we approach preventing sexual violence. The myth that drunk victims gave off “mixed signals” underpins some of the worst victim blaming and outright rape denialism we see regularly. And, as we’ve discussed extensively on this blog, since predators knowingly look for the most vulnerable-seeming potential victims, “rape prevention” efforts that focuses on telling individual women how to decrease their personal risk are inadequate. As Alexandra’s said before, “Until we create real systemic change, anyone’s individual efforts to not be [the drunkest person in the room] don’t actually reduce rates of violence.”

And, even more importantly, they distract from the things we could actual be doing to change the behavior of rapists and harassers–which is the real problem here. The report’s authors suggest that “a culture shift toward calling out aggressive masculine behavior” would be a good start. Sounds right to me.

Maya DusenberyMaya Dusenbery is an Executive Director of Feministing.

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  1. Posted March 7, 2014 at 7:36 am | Permalink

    Interesting study but I wouldn’t have thought aggression in bars when drinking is that related to the question at hand. Most assaults don’t occur openly at bars for one thing. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s the “quiet” wholesome guys at the bar who turn out to be the biggest creeps behind closed doors.

  2. Posted March 9, 2014 at 8:24 pm | Permalink

    Big surprise that feminists are right again. I hope this study proves to be useful, though I’m afraid it won’t convince many of the people who are so dismissive of sexual assault when women are intoxicated. I shared your post in my weekend reading roundup:

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