Friday, November 1, 2013

Talking Amid the Landmines

I've been following the heated discussions generated by Emily Yoffe's article in Slate about college binge drinking and sexual assault. She reignited some familiar debates about victim blaming and ignoring the actions of the rapist. Some writers such as Washington Post columnist, Ruth Marcus,  came to Yoffe's defense, others question the validity of our focus on alcohol as a factor. There's truth in both sides and this isn't a new discussion. I'm sometimes asked why we don't do more work to prevent people from raping rather than to educate victims about how to be safe. It's a good question. We do talk to youth about how having sex with someone who says no or is too intoxicates to consent is rape. We talk a lot about validating consent before proceeding. We also talk about being an ally and intervening if you see something happening that's not right (like taking a drunk girl up to your dorm room.) But frankly, other than educating it's difficult to create prevention programs that keep someone from choosing to assault someone.

Talking about sexual assault prevention is full of landmines (denial, resistance, flippancy)... but one of the most potent landmines comes from an unexpected source-women. Why? Because when we talk to groups about sexual assault prevention, we'd be remiss if we didn't talk abut the association between drinking and sexual victimization. Yet some women feel that talking about that association sounds like victim blaming.

Over half of all sexual assault involve alcohol (some studies place the percentages even higher.) And the risk is especially high when there is excessive alcohol consumption.in which the victim is so incapacitated that she(he) is unable to consent. Often these situations happen at parties and the assailant has also been drinking to excess, undoubtedly resulting in reduced inhibitions and poor judgment.  So when we talk with youth about sexual violence prevention we do talk about the risks of intoxication... knowing we'll detonate some landmines. Women often become very upset that by we're blaming the victim... not at all. We're reminding them that if they drink to a level that they can't look out for themselves, they're at risk of becoming a target for sexual violence. They aren't to blame for the assault in any way. The consequence for a night of overindulgence should be a hangover ... not being raped. But we do mention the connection between alcohol and sexual violence because it's important to know what you can do to increase your safety. It's also important to know that if you were drunk and raped... it's not your fault... you shouldn't feel ashamed... and you are entitled to our legal system holding the assailant accountable for the rape. It's equally important that we tell young men that not only is it not cool to take advantage of a drunk girl... it's a crime. The roots of sexual violence re much deeper than a bottle of tequila or a keg, but sometimes alcohol brings those roots to the surface.

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