Emily Yoffe is taking flack for pointing out what everyone who went to college should already know: that young women who drink to the point of insensibility are at risk of being raped. The reason her piece is supposed to be objectionable is that she is counseling the women to avoid drinking, rather than the men.
Actually, she also counsels men not to drink themselves to the point of insensibility: “If I had a son, I would tell him that it’s in his self-interest not to be the drunken frat boy who finds himself accused of raping a drunken classmate.” But it’s true, the article focuses on pointing out to women that drinking a lot is extra-risky for them, so they probably shouldn’t do it. Not because it’s wrong, but because they could end up getting sexually assaulted while they’re not really in control.
Let’s get this out of the way: If you get really drunk, and someone uses that to take advantage of you (or perhaps feeds you the drinks first), that doesn’t mean that you did anything morally wrong. The person doing the wrong thing is the one who consciously decided to have sex with someone clearly incapacitated. We shouldn’t live in a world where getting drunk will be taken as an invitation to rape.
But even though we shouldn’t, the fact is, we do. We can reduce the number of these sorts of rapes that take place, through education, by stigmatizing people who commit them and by looking out for friends and strangers who have had too much. But that sort of change will take time, and young women are at the risk of rape right now. Moreover, even if we do succeed in educating those who didn’t quite understand how wrong this is, there will still be bad people out there, and a drunk woman will still be vulnerable to those bad people. It’s not somehow crazy or sexist to tell woman that hey, there is a thing you can do to dramatically reduce your risk of sexual assault.
When people come to visit me, I tell them which streets they should avoid walking down at night, because those streets tend to be deserted and have a history of previous assaults. That doesn’t mean that I’m saying mugging is okay, much less that I’m somehow in league with mugging culture. But it would be lunatic to tell them it’s fine to act as if our neighborhood right now is as safe as I hope it someday will be. And realistically, telling my guests where it’s safe to walk is more likely to be effective than telling the muggers that what they’re doing is wrong. I can press for more police patrols and vote on the issue of crime, but at the moment when a guest gets up to leave, I also need to tell them how to be safe.
When I was a freshman in college, I went to a fraternity party and fell asleep on the couch. (I wasn’t drunk, just tired -- I did my share of drinking at college, but on this particular night, I was stone cold sober, and exhausted from an ill-considered decision to try out for a varsity athletic team.) One of the fraternity brothers, a junior, woke me up. “Don’t ever pass out in a fraternity house,” he told me. “You’ll end up in some brother’s bed.” It was advice that stood me in good stead for the next four years.
Do I wish he’d told his brothers, in no uncertain terms, that they shouldn’t drag passed-out women to their beds? Of course I do. (And to be fair, for all I know, he did.) But I’m still awfully glad he told me, rather than letting me sleep.