Binge drinking has been one of the justifications employed by apologists of rape and sexual assault to demonize or blame women, when in fact, to correlate binge drinking with rape generally amounts to an unjustifiable stretch that averts attention from the inexcusable criminal activity of the perpetrator, despite circumstances of intoxication. However, while research has shown that they often occur simultaneously (alcohol abuse and sexual assault), that does not mean that binge drinking can be seen as a natural precursor to rape by any means.
In America, rape is an endemic issue. Unfortunately, sexual assault is one social problem that has become far too pervasive for a reliably concerted and effective response quite yet. In truth, the unconscionable figures of unopposed rape essentially equate to an unceasing medical emergency. By definition, sexual assault and rape differ. Technically, sexual assault represents a range of forced sexual acts, including forced touching or kissing, verbally coerced intercourse, physically forced vaginal, oral and anal penetration. Rape is defined by sexual behaviors involving penetration due to force or threat of force, a lack of consent, or inability to give consent due to age, intoxication or mental status.
The crisis of rape is further aggravated by towering hierarchies of power, privilege, entitlement, and diversion within institutions such as college campuses, where sexual assault has too often become an excusable norm. Authorities who have the means to apply preventive measures reflect on the implications, and are co-opted into silence by the deeply embedded facts of male dominance, sexual exploitation, and aggressive entertainment. The issue is further compounded by the culturally, and commercially encouraged activities in which rape commonly occurs, namely alcohol abuse.
Impunity on Campus
The very foundations of American moral standards, and progressive thought, are increasingly exposed as bastions for youth and gender exploitation in the midst of an undeterred social milieu in which rape and sexual assault are not only tolerated, but also internally provoked. Nationwide, students themselves have confronted the issue of college rape head-on, only to experience a backlash of negligence on behalf of university administrations. The University of North Carolina, University of California Berkeley, Occidental, Dartmouth, Swarthmore, University of Southern California, Emerson College, among others, and most recently, an Ivy League jewel in the crown of American academia, Columbia University, have seen student movements enraged by exclusionary reform processes in which anti-rape policies are negotiated behind closed doors, leaving students out completely.
Since last year, students at Columbia have received the cold shoulder. For participants in the on-campus anti-rape movement, lack of direct student involvement in policy reform signifies an overt disregard for survivors of sexual assault. Clearly, in the example of student anti-rape activism at Columbia, there is an institutional bias, favoring the authority of campus administration over real legal experts, and therefore diminishing the capacity of survivors of sexual assault and rape to have their cases heard. One art student at Columbia, Emma Sulkowicz, walks between classes and appointments on campus carrying her dorm bed, on which she was raped, in protest of the shocking climate of impunity that has yet to bring her perpetrator to justice. Effectively, the university image has become more important than the health, and wellbeing of students, even over those who have become victimized by sexual assault.
An Apathetic Media
Another obstacle in the advocacy efforts of anti-rape college advocates has been with the media. Unsurprisingly, many high-profile media outlets have treated breaking stories about the ongoing college rape crisis with a striking indolence. The first shots were finally fired in the wake of a White House commission recommending widespread reform, as issued directly by President Obama. Earlier this year, on January 22nd, the White House issued a memorandum to attend to the nearly one in five women who have survived an attempted or completed sexual assault while in college. The federal measure sought to impose an institutional overhaul to address sexual assault on college campuses nationwide. Months later, when the first report of the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault was released, and titled, Not Alone, it further reinforced the importance of Title IX, a regulation that stands as part of the Education Amendments of 1972 protecting people from discrimination based on sex in education. Title IX is often cited among student anti-rape activists as one of the foremost legal standards that institutions receiving federal financial assistance must meet.
In the meantime, despite famous actors such as Benicio del Toro and Daniel Craig airing the “1 is 2 Many” public service announcement, young women continue to be traumatized on campuses where, for example, “rape guides” are published at Dartmouth College, and where “rape factories” are known to students at Wesleyan University. Harvard University may turn out world leaders, yet the administration was unable to simply move the perpetrator of a sexual assault. He remained another taciturn co-inhabitant of the dorm where he traumatized a young woman. She was then forced to write a bitterly ironic letter titled, “Dear Harvard: You Win”.
Another like her at the prestigious Amherst College quietly dropped out while her rapist graduated with honors. “I don’t drink, and during my first year of college, I was pursued by a guy, and he invited me over. We weren’t drinking. He cut up strawberries, and gave me juice in his room. Innocently, two people cuddling on the bed ended up with him not respecting me saying ‘No’. He didn’t respect that I said no, and he just went with penetrating me from behind,” one rape survivor who wishes to remain unnamed told BTR. “I always had anxiety in university. I would always go home after school, because I was aware that there was an epidemic, and that contributed to my fear of being at a university institution. I was already starting to question what I wanted to do in school, and having that anxiety of meeting someone who raped me through my schoolmates made me very afraid.”
Graduating high school and going into university I had two groups of girlfriends who really reveled in binge drinking. I noticed one group was more responsible in their binge drinking, they knew when to get back home, and there was another group who were always adamant on staying out more, and drinking more. In that second group who would stay out and continue drinking, once every other week, every other month, there would be an altercation, some form of bodily harm, whether self-inflicted or a sexual assault, it would always happen to the second group.
From sexually illicit video games, to hardcore pornography, to raping warmongers on TV, tuition-paying male students in colleges across the country live in a culture where sexual assault has become normalized. One in five young women equals three million full-time students who have been assaulted in college. Among the largest circulating newspapers in the U.S., the New York Times managed to feature relatively exemplary front-page stories, yet the Washington Post disappointed most abhorrently. The only front-page story they issued on the topic sympathized with an accused Navy football player, whose sports career was reportedly jeopardized after having been charged with a sexual assault crime. Curiously, the victim subsequently dropped charges. Prior to this unforgivable act on behalf of corporate media, CNN reporter Poppy Harlow infamously referred to two football players of Steubenville High School who were found guilty of raping a 16-year-old girl as young men with “promising futures”.
Binge Drinking and Rape
Interestingly, sympathizing with men who have become criminalized in a sexual assault case aligns with another oblique media tactic that essentially blames women for the crimes perpetrated against them. The anti-woman agenda is suppressive, elusive (as among university administrations), and often portrays, or worse, demonizes, rape victims as promiscuous binge drinkers. However, this is categorically beside the point. Women are often targeted with rophynol, or “roofies” the most popular date-rape drug of choice for young men who doctor a drink because they consider the crime of sexual assault to be the norm, and even expected, and encouraged among their peers. In other words, taking control becomes a symbol of masculinity, albeit vainly, and criminally immature.
Similarly, women at parties are pressured to drink, flying in the face of the biological reality that predisposes them to drunkenness much more rapidly than men. By consuming four or more drinks in about two hours, a young woman can officially be considered a binge drinker, according to the definition espoused by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Even before entering college, the figures of binge drinking among young women amounts to a national tragedy, with 23,000 American women, and girls, dying each year. The statistics, also publicized by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, attribute the deaths of one in eight women, and one in five high school girls to binge drinking. As Antonia Abbey, Ph.D. writes in her 2002 study, Alcohol-Related Sexual Assault, “The fact that alcohol consumption and sexual assault frequently co-occur does not demonstrate that alcohol causes sexual assault.”
However, men are legally and morally responsible for the acts of sexual assault they commit, regardless of whether or not they were intoxicated or felt that the woman had led them on previously. The fact that women’s alcohol consumption may increase their likelihood of experiencing sexual assault does not make them responsible for the man’s behavior, although such information may empower women when used in prevention programs.
Notably, by 2002, when Abbey released her important research, published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol, binge drinking among women had reached an all-time apex after a decade-long spike from 1993 to 2001, when binge-drinking rates climbed by nearly 30 percent. So, while alcohol abuse certainly increases the chances of sexual victimization, women who binge drink are certainly never responsible in the least for being targeted by sexual assaulters, and rapists, not by any means.
About the Author: Matt Hanson is a freelance writer living in Brooklyn, NY. He has lived in Egypt, Mexico, Peru, and Canada, and has worked with numerous daily newspapers, online start-ups, leftist magazines and everything in between since 2005.