SocialistWorker.org contributor Helen Redmond exposes the sexist myths underlying rape culture. --PG
Attitudes about women’s alcohol consumption haven’t changed much. Women who drink are still perceived as being “promiscuous,” “easy,” or more sexually available.
March 11, 2013 | Well they're packed pretty tight in here tonight
I'm looking for a dolly who'll see me right
I may use a little muscle to get what I need
I may sink a little drink and shout out "She's with me!"
-- Elton John, "Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting"
Alcohol is a game-changer when it comes to rape. If a woman was drinking when she was raped, she will be doubted and told it was her fault. Like Hester Prynne, she’ll be shamed and blamed. Society will force her to wear the Scarlet Letter A, for alcohol.
Friends, family, and if she goes to court, lawyers and judges, will scrutinize her behavior. She will be bombarded with questions. How much did you drink? Were you drunk? Were you binge drinking? Why were you drunk and alone with him? These questions are asked to establish that the woman set herself up to be raped because she consumed alcohol. And you can never trust an intoxicated woman because she really doesn’t remember what happened. It is classic blame-the-victim.
Drink and get raped, and you are chucked into the “alcohol-rape closet.” I was: After a long night of drinking at a bar, I got in a car with a man who later pulled out a knife and said he would use it if I didn’t do what he told me to. For years I blamed myself for getting raped because I was drunk. I believed that if I hadn’t been drinking, I never would have been raped.
I’m not alone. Alcohol is involved in a staggering number of sex crimes. In a national study of college students, 75% of males and 55% of females involved in date rape had been drinking or using other drugs prior to the sexual assault.
According to a study done by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism: “At least one-half of all violent crimes involve alcohol consumption by the perpetrator, the victim, or both. Researchers have consistently found that men who have been drinking alcohol commit approximately one-half of all sexual assaults. Depending on the sample studied and the measures used, the estimates for alcohol use among perpetrators have ranged from 34 to 74 percent. Similarly, approximately one-half of all sexual assault victims report that they were drinking alcohol at the time of the assault, with estimates ranging from 30 to 79 percent.”
The leading rape myth used to be about what a woman was wearing. The twisted logic goes like this: Women who wear provocative clothing are sluts who are “asking for it.” But the feminist movement has seriously chipped away at this rape myth.
Thousands of women in Muslim countries who wear the burqa, hijab, and dress modestly are raped and sexually assaulted. In India according to the National Crime Registry, a woman is raped every 20 minutes. Egypt’s Interior Ministry reports that 20,000 women and girls are raped every year. Engy Ghozlan of the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights anti-harassment campaign said, "If the Ministry of the Interior gets 20,000 then you should multiply it by 10." The United Nations Population Fund in Afghanistan reports that about 25 percent of Afghan women face sexual violence. (Note that alcohol is prohibited in most Muslim countries.)
Serving in the military escalates the risk of being raped. It’s been described as a “target rich environment” for sex crimes. In 2011, there were over 22,800 sexual assaults and it’s estimated that 20 percent of all active-duty female soldiers have been sexually assaulted. Military sexual trauma is not taken seriously by the Pentagon or military courts. A class-action lawsuit brought against the military by sexual assault survivors was dismissed by a court that ruled "rape is an occupational hazard of the military.”
Female soldiers wear drab buttoned-up uniforms and combat boots like their male counterparts.
Alcohol is the new “short skirt.” A poll done in 2005 by Amnesty International/ICM found that 30% of respondents believed that the victim was “partially” or “totally” responsible if she was drunk.
Society puts the onus on women to keep themselves safe and avoid dangerous situations. So if a woman is drunk, she isn’t taking her personal security seriously and is responsible for what happens to her. The hypervigilance and suspicion that is expected of women who drink in the company of men is not only ludicrous but is impossible. The majority of sexual assaults are planned, and the perpetrator takes advantage of women who have been drinking because they are more vulnerable. Let that sink in: sexual assaults are planned. Plus, the majority of rapes are committed by someone known to the victim: friends, family members, boyfriends, husbands, classmates, fellow soldiers and supervisors. Putting the burden on women to prevent rape won’t stop rape. The responsibility to stop rape should be placed entirely on men because they are the ones who do it. And drinking isn’t a crime, rape is.
Nonetheless, in rape trials, one of the first questions asked is if the victim had been drinking or using other drugs. Any lawyer will confess that it’s much harder to get a rape conviction because the woman’s credibility, reputation and memory will be attacked and put on trial if she was drunk. At the probable cause hearing in the Steubenville rape case, the lawyers asked dozens of questions about the woman’s use of alcohol.
The lawyer also asked a witness if the 16-year-old ever said, “no” or “stop” (a ridiculous question if you’ve seen the widely circulated cell phone video showing a clearly unconscious woman). In one clip, a man says, “She’s deader than a doornail.” Another witness testified: “Trent and Malik had picked her up by her hands and feet to take a – like a funny picture I would call it because she was drunk and we were all being stupid.”
The woman is being accused of making up events to damage the reputation of the football team. This young woman has already been chucked in the alcohol-rape closet.
Is it any wonder that rape is underreported? It’s estimated that 60 percent of rapes/sexual assaults are not reported to the police. Women are afraid to report rape because they know they’ll be blamed or not believed. The police, medical, legal and criminal justice system routinely revictimize women who’ve been raped or sexually assaulted and especially if she was drinking.
It might be 2013, but attitudes about women’s alcohol consumption haven’t changed much. Women who drink are still perceived as being “promiscuous,” “easy,” or more sexually available.
Research with sexually assaultive men shows that they often describe women who drink as "loose," immoral, and suitable targets for sexual aggression.
Alcohol is the most widely used date-rape drug, although drugs like Rohypnol and GHB have garnered more media attention.
In the U.S., alcohol plays a major role in socializing and meeting potential sex partners, especially on college campuses, in fraternities and dormitories, and in singles and sports bars. The effects of alcohol on the brain and behavior are well-known. The first few drinks make people more social, talkative and feel less awkward and shy; booze is commonly called “liquid courage.” At higher levels of consumption alcohol causes slurred speech, staggering and sedation. Alcohol decreases sexual inhibitions and increases sexual arousal. Binge drinking increases the likelihood of physical aggression in men and less frequently in women.
The “hookup” culture of young people is where the newest rape myth, “gray rape,” is most insidious. Gray rape promotes the idea that it is hard to identify what constitutes consent or non-consent and that many situations described as rape, especially when alcohol is added to the mix, are confusing or simply unknowable. Legally, a person who is drunk cannot consent to sex and having sex without consent is rape. But alcohol consumption doesn't completely diminish the ability to consent to or decline sex. It is only in situations where the person is unconscious (blacked out) that consent isn’t possible.
Studies have shown that in a large percentage of acquaintance rapes the rapist understands that he does not have consent and he uses alcohol to facilitate the rape. A study conducted by the Naval Health Research Center showed that men who committed multiple rapes knew that they didn’t have consent and they used substances to incapacitate their victims in order to complete the rape. And another study by David Lisak and Paul Miller came to similar conclusions: that men intend to rape and in a majority of the rapes, 80.8 percent, women were under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
These sexual predators target women who drink because they know it’s easier to physically overpower them. Many women who have been raped report that their attacker bought them numerous drinks and encouraged them to keep drinking for several hours before the attack. According to an article on rape and alcohol by Antonia Abbey in the Journal of American College Health, 75 percent of rapists said that they sometimes got women drunk in order to force sex on them. Another study showed that 40 percent of men said it was acceptable to force sex on a woman who was drunk.
Alcohol-facilitated rape isn’t an accident. And the gray rape ideas that are currently popular, that assert rape is the result of miscommunication, confusion or intoxication, are not only wrong, they let the rapist off the hook and blame the victim once again.
Dr. Abbey explained the sexist double-standard of drinking:
“Women who were drunk when raped are often viewed by others as partially responsible for what happened. Interviews with a group of college students showed that the male attacker was held less responsible for the rape when he was intoxicated than he was when he was reported as being sober. In contrast, the female victim was held more responsible when she was intoxicated than when she was reported as being sober. Thus, in terms of how others will perceive their behavior, the costs of intoxication are higher for college women than for college men.”
Alcohol-facilitated rape doesn’t take place in a vacuum. Sex crimes occur in a society where women are unequal to men in every arena of life and in a culture that degrades and commodifies women’s bodies and sexuality.
Advertisements for alcohol are among the most overtly sexist and misogynist. They often depict large-breasted, bikini-clad women draped over bottles of booze while being stared at by groups of men. For men, these ads reinforce the idea that drinking alcohol makes them powerful and that women are passive objects attracted to men who drink. Check out the Thirsty For Beer commercial on YouTube.
Raunch culture is ubiquitous, is often paired with binge drinking, and reinforces women’s status as sex objects who never say no to men. The Girls Gone Wild and Booty Slap Day videos, gentleman’s strip clubs, the TV show The Girls Next Door -- also known as The Girls of the Playboy Mansion -- restaurant chains Hooters and Tilted Kilt that lure customers with the promise of half-naked female servers, cause no societal outrage. In fact, some, including feminists, argue it shows that women are sexually liberated.
So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that men who rape have sexist and misogynist beliefs.
Studies have found the following attitudes among men who commit rape and sexual assault:
- Men who had committed sexual assault were more hostile toward women and lower in empathy compared with other men.
- Men who had committed sexual assault endorsd traditional stereotypes about gender roles; for example, that men are responsible for initiating sex and women are responsible for setting the limits.
- Perpetrators of sexual assault were more likely to endorse statements that have been used to justify rape; the most common were, "women say ‘no’ when they mean ‘yes’” and "women enjoy forced sex."
- Men who had committed sexual assaults were more likely to hold adversarial beliefs about relationships between men and women and to consider the use of force in interpersonal relationships acceptable.
These are the ideas that have to change in order to end sexual violence against women.
The only person who is ever responsible for rape or sexual assault is the perpetrator. When I finally understood this, I came out of the alcohol-rape closet.
Helen Redmond is a freelance journalist and a drug and health policy analyst.