On Wednesday, Slate published a column by Emily Yoffe titled "The Best Rape Prevention: Tell College Women to Stop Getting So Wasted." Yoffe began the post by naming high-profile rape cases in Stuebenville and Maryville, and then suggested that if women stopped drinking so much, they'd be less likely to "end up" getting raped. Her words did not go over well. On Friday, Slate published Yoffe's response to her critics:
I wrote a story whose message is obvious: The campus culture of binge drinking is toxic and many rapists prey on drunk young women. I said that when women lose the capacity to be responsible for their actions, sexual predators target them for attack. As banal as these observations are, I knew this story would result in a torrent of outrage.
Well, no one was outraged by Yoffe's "banal observations." Often rapists will attack incapacitated women — this is upsetting but well-known. What many women were offended by is Yoffe's suggestion that it's up to women to stop drinking, not men to stop raping.
Still, Yoffe insists that she was just trying to help "prevent at least some sexual assaults" by "giving practical advice to young women about the beneficial effects of keeping their wits about them."
Let's put aside a discussion of whether or not Yoffe's position is rape apologia (as some have suggested). It's not wrong to remind college students — women and men — about the benefits of "keeping their wits about them." But as someone who recently graduated from college, I can tell you that students are already warned early and often about the dangers of excessive alcohol consumption (including the possibility of sexual assault). Most universities require alcohol education as part of freshman orientation. And most women are brought up knowing that, as Katie McDonough at Salon put it, "their basic biology makes them a target" for assault.
Collegiate women especially are hyper-aware of their vulnerability. Entire sororities are set up around the idea and practice of "safety sisters" — women who stay sober at events to look out for other women. Girls check in with their friends constantly throughout nights out via cell phone. Roommates make sure one another make it home. And still, sometimes women — even vigilant, safety-obsessed women — "end up" getting raped. This is not women's fault. Rape happens because a person decided to rape, not because a woman left the house without wearing her Bubble Boy suit.
Yoffe finishes her response by admitting that people told her not to write the original column: "As I was working on this story, several of my friends counseled me not do it. Talking about things women can do to protect themselves from rape is the third rail, they said."
That's not true. Educators have been counseling women on how to feel safer on campus for years. But sadly, that's as far as education can go — helping women feel safer and more in control. Actual rape prevention has to start by addressing the sole cause of rape: rapists.
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