COMMENTARY | Decades ago, a woman who accused a man of rape had a tremendous uphill battle. Not only would she have to prove that she resisted to her utmost ability, but her entire sexual history would be analyzed in open court in an attempt to portray her as a “loose woman” who obviously “wanted it.” The victim of a heinous crime was often re-victimized by both the press and the courts. Today, fortunately, things are better: Rape shield laws and media respect of victim privacy have at least dimmed the harsh spotlight thrust onto rape victims.
But why is it wrong to advise young women on college campuses to use common sense and avoid drinking to oblivion in order to lessen the incidence of rape and sexual assault?
Within the past several years many people have been pilloried for telling women to drink less and dress more modestly in order to avoid rape. Immediately, they were attacked for “blaming the victim” and implicitly claiming that the women brought rape on themselves by not behaving according to overbearing conservative standards of dress and decorum. A similar brouhaha is brewing yet again, this time over an op-ed published at Southern Methodist University by a female journalism student. According to CNN, the November 1 op-ed has gone viral and elicited heated debate.
Though I may be pilloried myself for jumping into the fray, especially as a man, I must say that I disagree that warning young women of the dangers of drinking to excess is tantamount to “blaming the victim.” Common sense is not taboo and urging individuals to exercise caution is in no way absolving perpetrators of their aggressions. A rapist is still fully responsible for the rape…but why must we walk on eggshells when urging people to avoid situations that increase the likelihood of rape or sexual assault? It is not a zero-sum game. Urging commonsense rape prevention techniques does not lessen the culpability of rapists.
Critics of those who would urge young women to drink less and avoid putting themselves in dangerous, drug- and alcohol-fueled situations claim that efforts instead should be focused on making rapists stop raping. “Teach men not to rape!” is a common refrain. Well, how likely is that? Obviously, men should never rape. But will they stop? Probably not. Since the incident of rape, especially on alcohol-drenched college campuses, will likely never drop to zero, why is it wrong to urge potential victims of such horrible crimes to use common sense?
In most other endeavors we wholeheartedly urge common sense and proactive crime prevention. We encourage motorists to lock their vehicles, homeowners to lock their doors, and, perhaps controversially, many people want to repeal “stand your ground” laws on the basis that these laws allegedly increase crime by increasing heated confrontation. So we good citizens lock our cars, lock our doors, and avoid confrontation. We attempt to target-harden and de-escalate situations. Where is the outrage claiming that appeals to lock our cars, lock our doors, and avoid confrontations are de-facto “victim blaming”? I should be able to leave my car and home unlocked and unsecured and no person should trespass against me.
But the real world does not work like that, which is why appeals to common sense and proactive crime prevention are not just “victim blaming.”