Friday, October 18, 2013

A lesson in cause and effect: Drunk women do not cause rape. Rapists cause rape. Lumping responsibility on the survivor helps rapists justify their actions to themselves, and helps them get away with it

The fight against rape culture feels like an uphill struggle. Our victories are largely incremental: tweaking the discourse a little here; changing a few hearts and minds there. Yet over the years we have achieved improvements, and I had thought that perhaps we were finally starting to see a shift in attitudes towards rape.

I was dismayed, then, when I saw an article published in Slate magazine which seems to undo much of the progress we had started to make. In her article, agony aunt Emily Yoffe argues that to prevent rape, young women need to stop getting drunk. I wondered at first whether this was an archive piece, run from the 1970s, but sadly it was not. Indeed, Yoffe seems to be under the impression that what she is saying in somehow novel rather than a trope so tired I had thought it almost dead.

Yoffe points to evidence that about 80 per cent of women at college who have been sexually assaulted had been drinking, and they are unlikely to report it to the police. The fact they had been drinking at the time was a source of guilt and shame. Yoffe concludes from this that young women ought to “take responsibility” and stop drinking in the hope that “their restraint trickles down to the men.” My interpretation is somewhat different: I think Yoffe might have got cause and effect the wrong way round.

Despite what Yoffe seems to think, she is not the first to suggest that women are somehow responsible for stopping themselves from getting raped. She says: “That’s not blaming the victim; that’s trying to prevent more victims.” To me, this is still called victim-blaming. It shifts responsibility from the perpetrator to the survivor. It entails undue focus on the survivor’s behaviour or attire. Survivors are often reluctant to report rape because of the belief that they brought it on themselves. Such victim-blaming beliefs have also been found to differentiate between men who were sexually coercive or aggressive and those who were not in one study. In other words, lumping responsibility on the survivor helps rapists justify their actions to themselves, and helps them get away with it.

Read the full story here.

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