Rape & Alcohol – what about the perpetrator’s choices?
Another day, another warning issued to women. This time, and not for the first time, it is the old adage - WOMEN. Know Your Limits.
Irma Kurtz, Cosmopolitan agony aunt has shared her wisdom with BBC Woman’s Hour and reminded us that rape is ‘an assault with a weapon’ and warned that ‘drunkenness’ means women become incapable of defending themselves. [Clean Daily Mail Link]
It’s almost too difficult to know where to start with these comments. Hearing them from a popular columnist in a women’s lifestyle magazine makes me feel uncomfortable, but to say I’m disappointed would be an understatement; to say I’m surprised would be an outright lie. Women are repeatedly given warnings such as these - and if Wilfully Missing The Point was an awards category, Kurtz would be on the short list.
Why do rape and alcohol fit together so neatly? For the perpetrator, rape is a crime of power and control; he is entitled; he feels sex is his right. If his victim is drinking alcohol, so much the better - because society will excuse his actions without him having to defend himself at all. Society will say - ‘if only she hadn’t been so drunk, she would have been able to defend herself’. Society will say ‘perhaps she consented and is claiming rape’. Society will say ‘she left herself exposed and vulnerable, what does she expect?’.
If you accept safety advice of this type for women, you are saying “It’s OK if he rapes the other woman”. The woman who wasn’t as sensible, the woman who didn’t make the ‘right’ choices, the woman who didn’t defend herself, the intoxicated woman, the vulnerable woman, that other woman.
We are the other women. The risk of rape is directly related to the proximity of a rapist, not to our choices or behaviours. Women don’t need any more advice that is designed to be ‘helpful’. What we need less of is ‘helpful’ advice directed at us. Women cannot prevent rape - the rapist is most likely to be someone we know, even someone we are close to, such as a partner or a friend. Women and girls are raped by their brothers, their fathers, their husbands, their lovers. They are raped by strangers, they are raped by acquaintances. Only rapists make the choice to rape and only they can prevent it.
Acknowledging the reality of rape is a frightening thing; it is much easier to talk about what we can do to avoid it, rather than talk about what we can do to prevent it. It seems we are determined to avoid talking about the perpetrator, about his choices. We should be questioning his choices - every one of them. Why did he feel entitled to sex? Why did he choose to rape a woman? Why is his need for power and control so great that he will commit a serious crime in order to satisfy that need? Why did he choose a vulnerable victim? If we don’t ask these questions we, as a society, are helping to make his excuses for him.
We must acknowledge that ‘advice’ such as that trotted out by Irma Kurtz is damaging to all women, (not just those of us who have been raped) because they allow perpetrators impunity.
Let’s stop the complicity with rapists and instead, talk about his choices.
[Read more about this subject in this piece: Sick of a world in which alcohol is the new 'short skirt']