Friday, 18 October 2013

Alcohol and Sexual Violence

On Tuesday, Slate's Emily Yoffe wrote an article about the link between alcohol consumption and rape. The internet did not take it well.

Yoffe's article starts by summarising a number of studies regarding sexual assault and rape on college campuses. The findings of these studies are pretty grim: by the time they are seniors, 20% of college women will have been victims of sexual assault; very few of these assaults are ever reported. Yoffe then goes on to discuss the numerous studies that have linked sexual violence at college campuses to significant alcohol consumption. 80% of campus sexual assaults involve alcohol. Frequently both the man and woman have been drinking. Yoffe concludes from these studies that women should curtail their alcohol consumption in order to protect themselves.

It's at this point that Yoffe starts to earn the ire of the internet. Yoffe's recommendation that women limit their alcohol intake has been interpreted by numerous writers as victim-blaming. Instead of telling women to stop drinking, we should be telling men to stop raping.

However, Yoffe also has her defenders. Emily Matchar of The Atlantic Wire argues that Yoffe makes a valid point: alcohol and sexual violence is intimately linked. However Yoffe's error was in directing her advice only to women; men too should be educated on the links between alcohol and sexual violence. Yoffe's article links to a really fascinating survey by Antonia Abbey of Wayne State University which brings together the findings of numerous studies on sexual violence on college campuses. These studies show that: college men frequently view drunk women as being sexually promiscuous and therefore appropriate targets for sexual aggression; men who have consumed large amounts of alcohol are more likely to misinterpret social cues from women (viewing simple friendliness as sexual advances); and college men frequently believe that alcohol consumption is a justification for socially aggressive behaviour. Instead of telling women to protect themselves from rape by not drinking, we should be countering these disturbing and depressingly common beliefs about alcohol. Alcohol does not absolve you from responsibility for your actions. And a drunk woman is not 'asking for it'.

After reading the original studies to which Yoffe's article refers, I can understand how Yoffe has come to the conclusion that women should be educated on the importance on limiting their drinking. However from reading the studies it's also clear that educating men is similarly as important.

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