The only thing common to experiences of rape is the presence of a rapist

Daisy Coleman, at the centre of an alleged rape case. Ms Coleman's family have taken their case public, including posing for media photos.

Daisy Coleman, at the centre of an alleged rape case. Ms Coleman's family have taken their case public, including posing for media photos. Photo: Facebook

In the first episode of American Horror Story: Coven, a young Madison heads out to a college frat party where she’s promptly drugged by frat brothers. Her victimisers not only take turns raping her, but also recording the event for posterity on their smartphones (because rapists love nothing more than to share the evidence of their exploits).

Unfortunately for our dudebros, Madison is a witch with telekinetic powers (it’s AHS, after all). So seven of the nine young men are killed instantly. In that moment, it’s difficult not to feel like justice has been served.

While murderous retribution isn’t necessarily an appropriate response to sexual assault, I know at least a dozen women personally for whom that scene would result in a long, slow, mental fist pump. Because unlike so many examples in the real world, like the tragic recent case in which a 13 year old rape victim and her family were forced to leave a hostile town whose inhabitants sided with her well-connected 17 year old sports playing rapist (against whom the case was inexplicably dropped, despite there being ample evidence against him), in this narrative of alcohol related sexual assault, it is finally the perpetrators and not the victims who are forced to suffer the consequences of their actions.

Because so often the reverse is true. Discussions of sexual assault (while routinely failing to acknowledge that the majority of it occurs in our own homes or the homes of people we know, and at the hands of family members, partners and trusted friends) focus almost exclusively on the actions of the victims and what they might have done to invite violence.

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The latest offering from Emily Yoffe in Slate’s Double X is no different. Yoffe (who writes the Dear Prudence column, but whose frequent victim blaming and slut shaming shows she has no place offering advice to a three day old container of takeaway let alone an actual human being) embarks on a near-3000 word rant that basically boils down to the following sentence: if women don’t want to be raped, they shouldn’t drink so much. Wow, Yoffe. I have, like, literally never heard that before. You should write an advice column or something.

According to Yoffe, it is the false feminist imperative to match men drink for drink that’s putting women in unsafe situations - you know, like the kind of unsafe situation that involves a man or men stumbling over our inebriation and accidentally falling penis first inside us. Whoops!

So disconnected is Yoffe from the reality of sexual assault - that it is perpetrators who inflict it, enforce it and are ultimately excused from it by a society all too willing to find fault in its victims - that she even warns boys that it’s in their ‘self-interest’ not to become the drunken frat boy who ‘finds himself accused of raping a drunken classmate’.

There it is again. That not-so-subtle undertone that suggests sexual assault is a force beyond humanity’s control. That it isn’t an act of violence executed by people intent on violating another person’s body against their will, but manifested from thin air when the meteorological conditions for it are just right.

In this narrative, rape isn't something that is done to someone with free will and disregard for consent. It's something that a person 'finds themselves' in, a frightening predicament that results not because we have failed to adequately prioritise consent and women's bodily autonomy above that of male need, but because someone got themselves too drunk and wandered out into the road of life and into the path of a moving car that couldn't correct itself in time.

So far are society’s heels dug into the foundations of victim blaming and rape culture that even in cases where that violation is bound up in the ritual, ongoing humiliation of recording with intent to share, we still seek to blame the victim for failing to adequately protect herself against the natural proclivities of red blooded men. Well, sure. They filmed you passed out while they each took a turn and then shared it among their friends to uproarious laughter. But what were you doing drinking in the first place?  

The tagline of Yoffe’s tired clickbait screams that ‘getting drunk is closely associated with sexual assault [and] yet we’re still reluctant to tell women to stop doing it’. I’m not sure what it’s like up there on Yoffe’s home star of Planet What The F-ck, but we live in a culture that is altogether too comfortable with telling women what we should and shouldn’t stop doing in order to prevent our own rapes.

Don’t drink. Don’t walk by yourselves at night. Don’t wear provocative clothing. Don’t flirt with men you don’t intend to sleep with. Don’t be rude. Don’t lead men on. Don’t accept drinks from strangers. Don’t sign a check you don’t intend to cash. Don’t go to parties without your boyfriend. Dress like a lady. Understand that the world isn’t fair. Look out for evil monsters, but don’t make normal men feel like rapists by avoiding their attentions. Smile. Don’t imagine for a moment that you have an equal right to take up space in public without having to endure touching, groping, objectification and jokes at your expense. The world is what it is, yo.

What we’re sorely lacking is a committed directive that tells the mostly male perpetrators of sexual assault not to rape. Instead of educating the populace that women’s bodies aren’t public property, there is instead a mass mocking of initiatives that combat sexism and male entitlement. Sexual objectification is a compliment, not an intrusion. Sexualised jokes are funny, not humiliating. If you didn’t want to be raped, why did you drink that fourth glass of wine? You had to know what would happen.

Here's what I know to be true. At 17, I mixed vodka and passion pop at a friend's party and woke up the next morning in a spare bed, clothed with the remnants of a half empty cup of coffee next to me and no memory of the night before. I was not raped. Through my early 20s, I drank cask wine at house parties and crashed in beds with male friends. I was not raped. At 28, I spent nights on end in bars in New York with men I did not know, drinking beer and whiskey and wine, before walking home by myself through midtown Manhatten. I was not raped. The first time I hung out with the man I now live with, we sat up until 4am drinking wine on his couch. Later, I fell asleep on it while he slept in his bed. I was not raped.

The only thing common to experiences of rape is the presence of a rapist. Alcohol is not a precursor to sexual assault. It may be present (although most often it isn't), but it doesn't cause rapists to rape. It is perceived opportunity, entitlement and the casual enabling of a society that pins responsibility on women to avoid sexual assault that allows rape to continue at levels not properly examined or even targeted. But still we say, women - if you don't want to be raped, put down the bottle, all the while forgetting that even if this did work it still wouldn't stop rape. All it might do is stop it from happening to you.

All of this slow chipping away at women’s autonomy and bodily rights results in a culture that positions us as gatekeepers who must remain constantly vigilant in order to ward off sexual assaults. Meanwhile, the fevered rush to create caveats and excuses sidelines perpetrators as random bystanders swept up in the hurricane rather than instigators with full control over their choices and actions.

Despite its po-faced lead in, Yoffe’s article doesn’t ask any hard questions or shine a light on taboo topics hitherto avoided because too much truth-telling makes people uncomfortable. It’s just another sad, tired addition to a narrative that puts victims, not perpetrators, at the forefront of responsibility when it comes to avoiding sexual violence. 

 

125 comments

  • Spot on, again, Clem. Personally, I think, many young people drink far too much, but that is no excuse for rape. In fact, if alcohol makes some men do bad things, aren't they culpable for choosing to drink in the first place?

    Commenter
    Mags
    Date and time
    October 18, 2013, 8:09AM
    • Could you kindly point me to the part of the articale where Emily Yoffe "excuses rape"?

      Commenter
      JB88
      Date and time
      October 18, 2013, 11:14AM
    • But it isn't about excusing anything. I lock my doors before I go to bed at night. I know that if somebody breaks into my house, the break-in is their fault, not mine, but I willl still do anything reasonable I can to avoid being a victim of a break-in.

      If I tell my wife to be careful and take her mobile phone when she goes out for a walk in quiet areas very early in the morning, it isn't because I would blame her for any crime that happens when she is on her walk. It is because I simply don't want her to be a victim of a crime. Conflating the two ideas is simply intellectually lazy.

      Commenter
      Martin
      Date and time
      October 18, 2013, 11:37AM
    • Making your safety somebody else's responsibility is pretty stupid.

      Commenter
      cranky
      Location
      pants
      Date and time
      October 18, 2013, 12:56PM
    • "Making your safety somebody else's responsibility is pretty stupid"

      Lol - did you drive/cycle/catch public transport to work today? If yes, you made other road users responsible for your safety, dude! You trusted them to drive safely around you and you trusted that they were capable of driving safely around you. But I would hardly call you stupid for driving to work...

      Commenter
      Donna Joy
      Date and time
      October 18, 2013, 1:09PM
    • "Making your safety somebody else's responsibility is pretty stupid."

      Skydiving, yes. Rapey rapists, no.

      I am male, have three sisters and many girls who are friends (even when drunk or otherwise incapacitated), apart from my wife.

      At no point in my inebriated lifetime so far have I ever thought, wow, they look drunk: must be rape-time.

      The point the author quite rightly makes is that rapists are rapists - they are not 'accidental' or can somehow claim that they were induced into committing a crime against another person and that the victim should have somehow taken 'more care'.

      That is the kind of logic only idiots would use, and would only try to use it in a court room.

      Commenter
      Enraged Sock-puppet
      Date and time
      October 18, 2013, 1:46PM
    • Like the jogger that ran out of the shadows and onto a pedestrian crossing? They nearly got hit this morning. Why? no common sense.

      If there were drivers out there TRYING to cause accidents and hurt people then your analogy would be correct.

      Commenter
      cranky
      Location
      pants
      Date and time
      October 18, 2013, 2:21PM
    • Further more Donna.... are you suggesting rape is an accident?

      Commenter
      cranky
      Location
      pants
      Date and time
      October 18, 2013, 2:22PM
    • To the men commenting here. (except sock puppet) Locking doors is a simple act that does not adversely affect lifestyle. What you are suggesting is that women should adjust their work and social lives to accommodate freaks. Thats not a rational, well thought out suggestion. Unless you are a bloke who hasnt bothered considering the reality of living under those conditions.

      Commenter
      Rachael
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      October 18, 2013, 2:59PM
    • Sure, men are fully culpable for their own offences, but Yoffe is right to address binge-drinking culture, and encourage young women to protect their health and to keep their wits about them, but not only because of the risk of rape. I don't think that her main focus should have been on the risk of rape, but there is a clear correlation between substance abuse and sexual assault and that is not something that should be ignored. It doesn't mean it is the woman's fault for being raped, or that men aren't the ones solely responsible for raping women. They are. But while we are still educating and reforming the rape culture among men, does it not make sense to make women aware that there are sexual predators out there and encourage them to avoid the behaviours they pray on? The analogy of locking your doors at night is a good one for this point.

      Feminism isn't just about women doing whatever we want. Peer and advertiser pressure to binge drink is harmful and a feminist issue. Young men and women should be encouraged to moderate their drinking, to know when they have had enough and to protect their own health. That may be a separate issue from rape, but in addition if you have a binge-drinking culture in a community like residential colleges where there is also a clearly publicly recognised (and abhorred) rape-culture, then wouldn't you avoid those places? I know I did when I was at uni.

      Clem's rant here is impassioned and a knee-jerk reaction. When I read Yoffe's article I found that she was saying fairly sensible, if conservative, things.

      Commenter
      Bella Rose
      Date and time
      October 18, 2013, 3:03PM

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