If a student is drinking on campus, should she consider herself just as responsible as a rapist for then being sexually attacked? That’s the claim of James Taranto, a Wall Street Journal columnist writing about incidents of rape on campus.
Taranto begins his column, which is a response to a New York Times piece, by going into great detail about an assailant who was allegedly wrongfully accused, then follows with another case of a violent rape which he then portrays as a total anomaly. When his column then veers into a discussion about preventing non-consensual sex when parties have been drinking, however, he begins to make some even more troubling statements.
“What is called the problem of ‘sexual assault’ on campus is in large part a problem of reckless alcohol consumption, by men and women alike,” writes Taranto, who follows up by comparing it to a drunk driving accident. “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.”
Needless to say, many are unimpressed with his argument. “His analogy is flawed,” writes Philip Bump at The Wire. ”It is more like there are two drunk drivers, one going 90 the wrong way down a one-way street, the other sleeping it off in the garage of her own home. When the cars collide, the two are not equally at fault; the one who is breaking the law is the one to blame.”
The Frisky’s Jessica Wakeman pulls Taranto’s analogy to pieces as well. “If we lived in a culture where women were sexually assaulted as frequently as men are, his analogy might make more sense. But we don’t: women and girls are sexually assaulted in far greater numbers. According to statistics from the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, one out of every six women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime. In comparison, one out of every 33 men have experienced attempted or completed rape. Why are these numbers so different? Because women and girls are targeted for sexual assault.”
Over at Wonkette, Snipy takes on Taranto’s column with the usual acerbic wit. “[A]pportioning fault between drunk drivers isn’t really a great analogy unless one of those drivers FORCED THE OTHER TO DRIVE,” responds Snipy. “Also, too, we know that poor menz are always getting hurt by how they just end up drunkenly forcing sex on unwilling women because of how they’re so drunk, but you know what, Taranto? If and when men start coming forward with a goddamn epidemic of sexual assault occurring upon their persons, we will actually address that issue then, rather than just creating a stupid straw man now.”
As Tara Culp-Ressler at Think Progress writes, the victim blaming gambit that Taranto employs has long been echoed by many both in the media and out. “Rather than receiving compassion and support, rape victims are typically greeted with suspicion and shame. They’re either told that the crime was their own fault because they should have been smarter, or they’re assumed to be lying.” Also added into the mix is the belief that the problem that needs to be addressed is women drinking, rather than assailants not attempting non-consensual sexual encounters with them.
Yet “women drinking” continues to be the problem advocacy campaigns choose to focus on. Just like “Night of the Reckless Drunk,” the onus is put on women to modify their behavior to ensure they can’t be targeted, rather than make it clear that targeting them for any unwanted sexual encounter is always wrong.
Whether sober or not, no victim of sexual assault is ever “just as guilty” as the person who assaulted her.
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