On Monday, The Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto published a column in which he argued that a “balanced” approach to our country’s college rape crisis involves placing equal blame on the perpetrators and victims alike.
In a crudely inappropriate drunk driving analogy, Taranto engages in classic victim-blaming:
“If two drunk drivers are in a collision, one doesn’t determine fault on the basis of demographic details such as each driver’s sex. But when two drunken college students “collide,” the male one is almost always presumed to be at fault. His diminished capacity owing to alcohol is not a mitigating factor, but her diminished capacity is an aggravating factor for him.” He goes on to say, “women, but not men, are absolved of responsibility by virtue of having consumed alcohol.”
Firstly, let’s call sexual assault what it is, and not mask it with a poorly constructed analogy and euphemism (“collide,” really?!). Secondly, Mr. Taranto is not only engaging in an egregious double standard, but he is ignoring reality. More often than not, men are the ones exonerated from responsibility if they assault a woman whilst drinking. They were drunk; they didn’t know what they were doing. Furthermore, social norms dictate that binge drinking, partying and sex is acceptable, “manly” behavior. But not for women.
A woman who is drinking past her limits is by no means absolved of responsibility; quite the opposite. She is shamed, called a “slut,” told she was “asking for it,” and blamed for not adhering to outdated gender (read: lady-like) norms. In court rooms, sexual assault victims’ behavior is paraded in front of juries. If she was intoxicated at the time of her assault, she somehow becomes a less “perfect,” less believable victim.
Mr. Taranto obviously buys into the myth of an “ideal” victim: someone who is brutally raped by a stranger while sober. However, the reality is starkly different. According to RAINN, 73% of sexual assaults are committed by a non-stranger. That statistic becomes more bleak when the scope narrows to focus exclusively on college students. The Department of Justice reports that “Ninety percent of college women who are victims of rape or attempted rape know their assailant. The attacker is usually a classmate, friend, boyfriend, ex-boyfriend, or other acquaintance (in that order).”
So can we please stop perpetrating that myth now?
And let’s be clear: rape and other forms of sexual assault are not a problem of alcohol. They are a problem of sexual assault. The cause of rape is 100% rapists. Not alcohol, not short skirts, not television. Rapists. To suggest otherwise is to further stigmatize victims and conflate a crime with a regret or miscommunication.
Mr. Taranto would do well to read up on sexual assault statistics, and then apologize to the one in four women who will survive a completed or attempted rape in her lifetime.
TAKE ACTION: Tell the Wall Street Journal that irresponsible reporting like Mr. Taranto’s is not only insulting, but harmful to the efforts of sexual assault advocates. Email firstname.lastname@example.org and remind the editors that rape is always a crime and always serious.