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Discussion flares about students, booze and rapes

A provocative article in Slate suggests women should mind their alcohol intake to prevent being raped. Is the solution really that simple?
Alaska Dispatch file art

When Slate.com writer Emily Yoffe suggested earlier this week that to avoid being raped college women should stop getting drunk, she got people's attention.

Pointing to statistics that show many campus rapes involve alcohol -- either the assailant was drunk or the victim, or both -- she wrote at length about how society can do a better job protecting women by encouraging women to protect themselves. And in the case of alcohol, that means not drinking so much that you no longer have your wits about you.

Responses to her analysis raise questions about whether it is appropriate to place the burden of safety onto women. Other strategies raised by critics of Yoffe's position reveal how rape is a more complicated issue than just telling someone not to let themselves get raped, or telling men not to rape. Another Slate writer, Amanda Hess, who identifies herself as a rape victim, countered Yoffe by saying that “rape is a societal problem, not a self help issue.”

Hess's article illustrates how swift consequences and no tolerance for abusive behavior toward coeds would do more to prevent the problem, by acting as a deterrent to would-be-rapist college students. If being known as the kind of guy who hurts others isn't enough of a deterrent to stop a guy from raping, maybe knowing he'll get kicked out of school or criminally charged will.

“We can prevent the most rapes on campus by putting our efforts toward finding and punishing those perpetrators, not by warning their huge number of potential victims to skip out on parties,” Hess argues.

In a response of his own to Yoffe, Huffington Post Associate Editor Tyler Kingkade also asks Why don't we start telling men not to drink as rape prevention? “A woman should not have to fear that if she reaches a certain Blood Alcohol Level, one of her friends, acquaintances or even boyfriend might sexually assault her,” he wrote. Where studies show women feel guilt and shame, they show men who drink use alcohol as a way to justify their behavior. So instead of telling women not to get drunk, maybe the message should be telling men to keep themselves under control and also not drink too much.

Kingkade argues that prohibition won't end violent crime, and that the solution is in teaching people about healthy relationships. And, this: “... in terms of stopping sexual violence, let's start with teaching people not to rape and go from there.”

At about noon on Friday, Yoffe's response to her critics appeared at Slate.com. It begins: "I wrote a story whose message is obvious: The campus culture of binge drinking is toxic, and many rapists prey on drunk young women. I said that when women lose the capacity to be responsible for their actions, sexual predators target them for attack. As banal as these observations are, I knew this story would result in a torrent of outrage. Torrent it has been, so I wanted to characterize the responses and reply to some of my many critics."

Contact Jill Burke at jill(at)alaskadispatch