Tara Culp-Ressler brings us some much-needed sanity—and with evidence on her side—at Think Progress today, regarding the relationship between drunkenness and sexual assault:
A 2001 research project into sexual assault and alcohol commissioned by the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism puts it this way: “Although alcohol consumption and sexual assault frequently co-occur, this phenomenon does not prove that alcohol use causes sexual assault.” In some cases, the researchers pointed out, it may actually be the other way around. The desire to commit a sexual assault may actually encourage alcohol consumption, as some men may drink before assaulting a woman in order to help justify their behavior.
National statistics dispel the direct correlation between alcohol and rape, too. The Department of Justice’s National Crime Victimization Survey has found that the number of Americans who say they’ve been raped — regardless of whether they reported that crime to the authorities — has been declining since 1979. During that same time period, binge drinking has been steadily rising. As Slate’s Amanda Hess points out, that suggests something else besides alcohol consumption is actually factoring into the nation’s sexual assault rate. Indeed, research has found that intimate partner violence declines not as people drink less, but as society moves toward gender equality.
David Lisak, a former clinical psychologist who now consults the U.S. military and college administrations on issues of sexual assault, has done extensive research into the nature of sexual crimes. In one of his research papers, he details some “common characteristics of the modus operandi” of the people who he refers to as “undetected rapists” — that is, the men who are violating women’s consent and getting away with it. According to Lisak’s observations over two decades of working with this population, these people:
- are extremely adept at identifying “likely” victims, and testing prospective victims’ boundaries;
- plan and premeditate their attacks, using sophisticated strategies to groom their victims for attack, and to isolate them physically;
- use “instrumental” not gratuitous violence; they exhibit strong impulse control and use only as much violence as is needed to terrify and coerce their victims into submission;
- use psychological weapons — power, control, manipulation, and threats — backed up by physical force, and almost never resort to weapons such as knives or guns;
- use alcohol deliberately to render victims more vulnerable to attack, or completely unconscious.
This is getting a bit long in the quote already, but there’s some very important info here:
This profile isn’t simply hypothetical. Last year, a user on the social media site Reddit started a thread for rapists to give them a platform to explain what motivated them to commit their crimes. The thread was eventually removed, but not before it garnered hundreds of comments. One of the comments that went viral came from a man who described himself as a “serial rapist” during his college years. He wrote that he began forcing himself on women because he liked the “thrill of the chase,” and described how he selected the girls who he would rape: “I would find attractive girls that were self-conscious about their looks… Hopefully a girl who was a bit damaged, had a shitty ex-boyfriend, or family issues, came from a small shut in town, that sort of thing… So, when I showed interest in them they’d be completely enamored, they’d almost be shocked that a popular, good-looking, and well liked guy would be talking to them.”
That Redditor mentioned that “alcohol helped.” But most of the tactics he employed were actually about carefully selecting his victim, using emotional manipulation, and testing their boundaries — the first bullet points on Lisak’s list. That points to a largely undiscussed aspect of sexual violence: often, the “drunk victim” was targeted as a victim before they took a sip of alcohol on the night of their assault. It didn’t matter how much they ended up drinking.
It’s difficult to identify rapists, so there isn’t a huge body of research that has investigated their behavior in this way. But a few other studies in this area echo many of Lisak’s findings — most notably, the uncomfortable reality that most sexual predators don’t simply “slip up” after having too much to drink and accidentally violate someone’s consent. Rather, they’re often making calculated decisions to achieve their goal of assaulting multiple victims, just like the Reddit user. A 2009 survey of rapists enlisted in the navy found that the vast majority of men who had committed rape admitted to raping multiple victims, and many of them said they used alcohol as one of their tools. A recent large international study on sexual violence also found that repeat offenses are very high among rapists, and more than 70 percent of the participants who admitted to rape said they did it because they believe they’re entitled to women’s bodies.
What kind of pattern do we see emerging from all this?
1. Even when we focus on perpetrators, it’s not the alcohol that causes rape. Men who have already decided to commit rape, get drunk at the scene to help justify their behavior. Perhaps we should be asking why this seems like a good idea to them? What leads them to believe that their behavior will be excused if they were drunk at the time?
Why is it that when men drink alcohol, it makes them less responsible for what they’ve done, whereas when women drink alcohol, it makes them more responsible for what others have done to them?
2. At the population level, more heavy drinking does not translate to more rape. More gender equality leads to less rape, even as both men and women drink more. So, in order to make rape happen still less, perhaps we should be concentrating on exploring and deconstructing gender-related attitudes, rather than women’s willingness to get hammered?
3. Rapists choose their victims often well in advance of the attack, based on a variety of personal traits which may or may not have anything to do with the victim’s tendency to drink more than she should.
4. Rapists plan their attacks in advance, not at the moment they see women getting sloshed.
5. Rapists use a wide range of tools to groom, isolate and disable their victims. Alcohol is one of those tools.
6. Rapists choose their victims in advance, often based on personality traits that mark them as vulnerable, insecure and easily isolated, and THEN make sure their intended victims get plenty drunk.
7. Most rapists don’t do it just once. They have plenty of experience, and it’s not attributable to a night of bad judgment brought on by too many shots. They know what they’re doing.
8. Did I mention that rapists choose their victims, and make sure they’re drunk before the rape? Do we get the impression, maybe just a little, that most rape victims didn’t “get raped” because they were happy to drink themselves into a fugue state, but that they got so drunk because they’d already been targeted for rape?
This pattern is why I and other Feminazis are not interested in the “personal safety” approach to rape prevention. Personal safety does not apply to a crime with this much control and decision-making on the part of the assailant. There is nothing to be gained, in terms of keeping women safe from rape, by telling women to protect themselves by staying sober. It’s not just unfair, it’s not evidence-based. It accomplishes nothing except to make rape victims believe it’s their fault and there’s no point in reporting the crime to the police. I guess that keeps the court system from getting too busy with prosecuting rapists.
So, this is why we brand “personal safety” advice as victim-blaming. Admonishing young women not to binge-drink will not only fail to make a dent in overall rape prevalence, it won’t even make a difference in alcohol consumption by rape victims at the time of their victimization. Following the example of people like Emily Yoffe, and shaking a stern finger at party-happy college girls who like to get sloshed, fails to address the fact that rapists not only choose drunk women, they make sure their victims drink. What do you call it when someone’s response to a widespread crime, mostly against women and overwhelmingly by men, is to scold women for their vulnerability-associated behavior, while ignoring the perpetrators’ agency in controlling their behavior and ensuring their vulnerability? What do you call it when people talk about rape in such a way that it sounds like women happily get blind-drunk and then cry rape after they stumble onto some unwanted dick? Because that’s what I call blaming victims and ignoring assailants.
This isn’t just about defending women’s right to drink in excess, this is about doing something that actually works to prevent rape. The “tell women to stop getting wasted” crowd (and they are a far bigger crowd than they care to admit) protest that they’re not victim-blaming, they’re just trying to “keep women safe.” That defense is inapplicable when their make-fewer-victims approach completely ignores the factors that actually create victims. Those factors include crappy self-esteem and insecurity, which tend to be fueled by sexism, not alcohol.
Focusing on women’s behavior surrounding rape victimization isn’t only objectionable because we “shouldn’t have to” build our lives around avoiding rapists. (We already build our lives around avoiding rapists, and yet rape still happens. Surely it must be because we’re not careful enough.) It’s objectionable because it doesn’t work. Telling women not to drink is like telling women not to walk home at night because rapists can follow them, when in fact the rapists are sabotaging women’s cars in the first place. You’re giving us safety advice that doesn’t keep us safe. Am I making myself sufficiently clear here? IT DOES NOT WORK.
Focusing on the victim’s behavior is a good way to make sure rapists know how to select and groom their victims, though, I’ll give you that. Sexual predators are people we know, and they participate in our discussions. It’s also a good way to let people in the justice system know which cases warrant prosecution. Jury members always want to know when the victim did something ill-advised that makes the offender’s actions irrelevant, for example. If we scold those silly, hard-drinking sluts hard enough, they won’t bother talking about their experiences, and that’s almost as good as if it’s not happening.