No, Being Drunk Does Not Make a Rape Victim as Guilty as Her Assaulter

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.

Photo credit: Thinkstock


Alexander Melnikov

If I am (a man) go out to a bar and have a few beers. Then later meet a girl who has sex with me. Should I press rape charges against her?

Karen H.
Karen H.2 years ago

I'm sitting in an upscale restaurant enjoying a delicious meal. You sit at a nearby table and look over and decide, "I want me some of that!" So you reach over with your fork and take some of my food. I didn't invite you to. I am offended that you helped yourself without even asking.
So tell me, Taranto, how is that MY fault?

Janet Hudgins
Janet Hudgins2 years ago

Yayyy, Robert. So good to hear real men talking real truth!

Robert Hamm
Robert Hamm2 years ago

Linda the only reason a woman getting fruunk is dangerous when with Men is because our society has allowed Men to get away with this kind of behavior…..Boys will be boys ya know. Male sex drive is stronger than a femals etc etc ALL Bullshit of course. Men are given a pass and they shouldnt be given any pass. MEN had NO right to impregnate anyone who doesnt wish to be pregnant. PERIOD!!! But as long as we keep givin g men a pass on this issue the problem will continue on. A Woamn should feel safe (although stupid) walking down the street naked. THe fact that she cant points to the fact that Men are allowed to “plawith no conseqwuence. “She was asking for it” NOOOOOOO If she didnt say come over here and F**K me YOU get to keep your dick in your pants. If you dodnt wear protection you get to keep your dick in your pants. I am sick fo boys running around pretending to be Men. MEN have control of themselves…….NO matter WHAT the woman is doing.

Janet Hudgins
Janet Hudgins2 years ago

Jennifer, it shows that many, way too many men are not long out of the cave and still consider women to be for their use and abuse. A good man is still hard to find and we should not be afraid to say that out loud. Violence against women is pandemic, says the UN, as if it were an epiphany. Fact is that gays have made more progress than women, not that gays shouldn't, but that women should.

Martha Ferris
Martha Ferris2 years ago

If I am drunk and there are no other factors involved and someone shoots or stabs me am I just as guilty as the perpetrator?

Linda Kristensen
Linda K.2 years ago

Just to finish this:

"Secondly - and this is not an attempt to lay the blame on women - it is not unreasonable to point out that getting drunk may lay you open to danger and it might therefore be better if you don't do it. After all, I wear a seatbelt in my car not because it would be my fault if another driver crashed into me, but because I appreciate that it might happen and I want to protect myself."

Brian, you compare rape to an accident, but rape is no accident. If that comparison should hold true, you are wearing a seat belt in case someone rams you on purpose.

Linda Kristensen
Linda K.2 years ago

Puuh, not on my best, sorry about the mudle:

"18% of prosecuted rape cases end in a conviction"

Linda Kristensen
Linda K.2 years ago

I meant to include the link to those figures:

Linda Kristensen
Linda K.2 years ago

Brian S:"I think there is some truth in the argument that both parties can be responsible, as alcohol removes inhibitions.
Thus either party can end up sending the wrong signals and either party can do something consensually at the time that the next morning they decide was wrong. That is not rape if the "victim" puts herself (or himself) in a position where they get intimate : with someone and either fail to make it clear that they are not happy, or indeed give the vibe that they want things to go further, particularly when both parties have been drinking and have impaired judgement."

I think you are mixing up two situations: 1) the situation where the have second thoughts after the fact, and 2) where she cannot say no or indeed cannot say yes.

1) is a difficult situation but 2) is clear rape, because if you cannot say a clear 'yes, then there is no consent. Consent means 'yes'. Anything short of that is rape, quote simply.

"It should not be the case, that situations such as that should automatically be prejudged by the maxim that the man is always wrong and the woman is always right, but that is how society judges it and certainly in England, that is how the courts view it."

Rape cases are always difficult as they can be word against word, but I think you are wrong here. I believe the UK police just had criticism because not many cases go to trial.

"A national study estimates only 37% of reported
rapes are prosecuted.
18% of prosecuted