Alcohol and Sexual Violence: When Myths are used to excuse personal responsibility
This is the somewhat salacious headline to an article in The Temple News by Edward Barrenchea from September 2013. The sub-heading, in a much smaller font, was: "One of three reported sex assaults this semester involved alcohol." Perhaps this is me nitpicking, but 1 out of 3 reported sexual assaults isn't quite the same as a clear link between alcohol and sexual violence. It's certainly obvious that Barrenchea doesn't have a clear understanding of sexual violence or rape myths.
At no point does Barrenchea make it clear who has been drinking alcohol: the perpetrator or the victim. There is a relationship between alcohol and sexual violence; it's just not the one that Barrenchea assumes. Rapists are far more likely to have consumed alcohol than rape victims. The fact that rapists have drunk alcohol is not a mitigating factor. We hold drunk drivers legally responsible for making the choice to drive a vehicle whilst intoxicated. We must hold men who consume alcohol legally responsible for their actions whilst under the influence of alcohol. Being drunk does not negate criminal responsibility.
Nor does drinking alcohol mean that women are responsible for being victims of sexual violence. I am incredibly concerned about the safety of female students when statements like this are made without any attempt to question it:
“The majority of our sexual assaults are directly related to alcohol or some other substance,” Acting Executive Director of CSS Charlie Leone said. “Our goal is to keep the students safe, even if it means protection from themselves.”
Women, whether they are students, faculty or employees deserve to be safe from male violence. Suggesting that they are in someway culpable for being victims of male violence actually puts women at greater risk. It is precisely this kind of victim blaming which makes it harder to women to seek support or go to the police to report the crime. These victim-blaming myths make it less likely for sexual violence crimes to be investigated properly or prosecuted. They are responsible for the vast majority of rapists never seeing the inside of a police station or court; and responsible for those which do ending with not guilty verdicts.
Barrenchea's irresponsible reporting, which fails to acknowledge the responsibility of male perpetrators, has done tremendous harm. It's not surprising that there has been a 53% drop in reported sexual offences off campus if victims are being held personally responsible for being assaulted for the crime of being in public spaces. Or, that reported rapes have increased by 22%. These types of victim blaming statements give rapists a license to commit sexual violence safe in the knowledge that their victims will be blamed.
Barrenchea needs to do some basic research into the reality of sexual violence instead of perpetuating rape myths as fact. Sexual violence is not a genderless crime. It is almost entirely perpetrated by men. Failing to acknowledge this reality puts women and children at risk.