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Thursday, October 27, 2016

No, this is not written in defense of Washington Post and Fox News pundit George Will, whose recent column on rape has drawn outrage and resulted in his ouster from the pages of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, where his syndicated musings had run for many years. Earlier this month, Will wrote, among other things, that campus rape victims now have a kind of cachet: “When they make victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges, victims proliferate.”

Having taught at a major university, I know just how wrong Will is. Young women are still ashamed of being victims of sexual assault, and the crime remains woefully underreported, on campus and off. As the Obama administration has noted, many colleges and universities mishandle complaints of sexual assault, giving perpetrators little more in the way of punishment than the equivalent of a visit to the principal’s office.

But it’s also clear that many young feminists and their allies tend to discount the tools they have at their disposal to help protect themselves. There is, for example, a significant correlation between binge alcohol consumption and being the victim of sexual assault. Yet too many young women are furious at those who point that out. Modest advice about crime prevention is met with accusations of “blaming the victim.”

Does a woman have the legal right to get sloppy drunk without being the victim of rape? Does she have the constitutionally protected right to walk down a dark street scantily clad in the middle of the night without being assaulted? Absolutely. Do those behaviors qualify as common sense? Ah, no.

In October 2013, Slate’s advice columnist Emily Yoffe (her nom de plume is “Prudence”) wrote an essay noting the link between alcohol consumption on college campuses and sexual assault. She advised young people — especially young women — to keep their wits about them.

“Let’s be totally clear: Perpetrators are the ones responsible for committing their crimes, and they should be brought to justice,” she wrote. “But we are failing to let women know that when they render themselves defenseless, terrible things can be done to them. … That’s not blaming the victim; that’s trying to prevent more victims.”

Yoffe’s essay certainly drew some support. (I wrote her an encouraging email.) But the comments section was also filled with denunciations of her thesis, some of which amounted to a deliberate misreading: “Slate’s article by Emily Yoffe … does nothing but reinforce traditional stereotypes associated with rape. That rape can be prevented solely by focusing on the victims,” wrote one. “Mildly disgusted by this article. We shouldn’t be teaching women not to get raped, we should be teaching men, boys, NOT to rape,” wrote another.

Can’t we do both?

Over the years, I’ve talked to many women whose lives were forever changed by a sexual assault, whether committed by a stranger or an acquaintance. The lucky ones finally regained a sense of control, of self-worth, of safety after years of therapy. The post-traumatic stress wasn’t automatically wiped away by a guilty verdict for the perpetrator, either. Given that trauma, women ought to do everything in their power to avoid being victims.

And, yes, we should also teach men that they have no right to women’s bodies. One of my former students once wrote a powerful essay about the need to change a culture in which the adage that “boys will be boys” reinforces reprehensible behavior. She was right.

Women rightly cringe at outdated mores that blame rape on the victim’s appearance or behavior or even her surroundings: “Why was she wearing that short skirt?” “Why was she out so late by herself?” Happily, those views are ebbing, at least in the developed world.

However, that doesn’t mean young women shouldn’t do everything possible to stay out of harm’s way — including staying sober. It’s not foolproof, of course, but it helps, just as locking your doors at night helps protect against burglars. That’s certainly what I’m going to try to teach the young women in my life.

(Cynthia Tucker, winner of the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a visiting professor at the University of Georgia. She can be reached at [email protected])

Photo: Henderson Images via Flickr

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  • snickers413

    A lot of what she says is true. We women need to quit being so stupid and setting ourselves up for rape. No wonder we don’t get alot of sympathy when it happens if we get so drunk we pass out. It’s like an open invatation to an ignorant young man. Thats not putting all the blame on the woman because men should know if they can’t say no it doesn’t mean yes, but the woman has to take responsability for letting it happen because she drank to excess. But no matter what the circimstance is rape is rape and I’m tired of seeing these young men get a slap on the wrist while the woman carries all the pain and heartache! Don’t know why parents aren’t teaching their sons that unless a woman says yes, it means no and it could very well destroy your whole life you had planned.

    • johninPCFL

      The ‘good news’ is that under the GOP regimes nationwide the rape victims not only HAVE to bear the children, but then get to fight their way through the child support and visitation battles in court with their rapists, and then of course dealing with the rapists’s inlaws. That part of the anti-abortion crusade just never seems to get any airtime. I wonder why?

  • Allan Richardson

    Burglary works the same way: having good locks and taking precautions reduces the risk of being a victim of burglary. Yet no burglar ever got off by pleading “they left their door unlocked” (except Goldilocks). The criminal is responsible to the law for committing the crime, but the victim should take precautions to avoid becoming a victim. To paraphrase Ronald Reagan’s comment about nuclear arms talks, “Prosecute, but lock the door.”

  • elw

    The author of this article needs to rethink her basic premise that common sense will somehow save women from rape. I guess she’s never heard of date rape or a husband forcing himself on his wife. She forgets about young women whose drinks are spiked so they can be raped, and women who are raped at work, while serving their Country, and young adolescent girls, some still undeveloped who are raped just because they cannot defend themselves. Until we stop putting qualifiers on the actions of victims – we will never remove rape from our Society. It does not matter what a rape victim wears or does – no one has the right to force sexual contact on anyone else, under any circumstances or reason. It is an act of violence, humiliating and life changing. The person who drapes someone should be a criminal because they are.

    • Sand_Cat

      She made no such statement. She suggested reducing easy opportunities for potential rapists while continuing efforts to remove protections for rapists. She never suggested some all-encompassing means to “save women from rape,” as you appear to be claiming. Is ending rape an all-or-nothing proposition, where one should encourage young women to be careless and easy victims in some kind of hope that an ever-growing toll will somehow shame the society into doing something about it? How has that worked out so far?

      • elw

        I made no claim about her providing “some all-encompassing mean to save women from rape; nor did I say women should be careless and expose themselves to rape in order to shame society. You have misinterpreted what I said and that is your problem not mine.

        • Sand_Cat

          A bit touchy, aren’t we?
          The fact that you chose to write such a post after the writer took such great care to assure that she was not suggesting any blame whatsoever to the victim, means YOU have the problem, possibly as simple a one as not having read the article.

          • elw

            My response to your admonishment is no more touchy then yours. If you can not take criticism, do not criticize,

          • Sand_Cat

            So why don’t we drop the juvenile exchange of insults and move on.