[Content Note: graphic references to and description of rape cases]
One of the things we love to do here in Oxford is going to “bops” or dances. Every weekend, there’s probably at least one going on, if not more. Our neighboring college, Green Templeton, hosts quite a few throughout the term, and so we most frequently cross the road to hang out there. Their space for dancing is fairly small and is often painfully warm, but it’s usually a good crowd and it’s easy to find your friends when you show up.
Like any party, the alcohol flows freely. I have a number of dresses that I had to wash when I got home because of spilled drinks and sweat. The floor becomes sticky with sweat and booze and I learned the hard way not to wear slip-on shoes to these bops. Since I don’t drink, I spend at least part of my time making sure that my drinking friends are getting enough water and essentially trying to ensure they have less of a hangover in the morning. I’ve kept friends from falling into traffic, from making bad decisions with regard to what they drink (“no more vodka cranberries for you let’s get something virgin for a little bit…”).
I’ve never once had to stop a friend from sexually assaulting someone else. I’ve never had to break up a drunken fight. I’ve never had to stop my drunk friends from doing any of the things people seem to think drunk people will just suddenly, naturally, be inclined to do—like sticking their fingers into an unconscious woman or stripping a girl while she lays unconscious behind a dumpster.
Every time I go out with my friends, I keep an eye on our drinks, and try to never leave an open drink alone. I and my friends do everything we’ve been told will “save us” from rape. But here’s the thing: several of the friends I’m watching out for? Have experienced assault. They’re already survivors. They followed the rules before and some asshole still decided to rape them. We all know that the work I and they do in keeping safe when we go out is something of a charade. But we also know that if something does happen, if someone decides to rape them, we need to be able to tell the police that we were taking “all the precautions,” because those questions will come up. If, by some chance, the incident makes the media, we’ll have to defend ourselves against all kinds of accusations and “advice” about what we should have done.
We’ll be instructed that we shouldn’t have been drinking at all.
We’ll be told that we shouldn’t have worn that outfit.
We’ll be told that we shouldn’t have engaged in hook-ups previously because it “acclimated” men to expect it from drunk women.
We’ll be told, even if our rapist is caught in the act of raping us while we’re unconscious that it was somehow still our fault for wanting to participate in the wider world in the first place.
It’s a drinking problem. It’s a problem with sexual promiscuous young adults. It’s a problem with women being/existing/choosing to live. We didn’t do enough. We didn’t say no enough. We didn’t protect our drinks well enough. We were dancing. We were trying to have a good time. We were failing to be the quiet, meek, home-bound women we’re supposed to be.
And if we’re raped in our homes? By our husbands? Our boyfriends? What mistakes did we make then?
Every time one of these big cases breaks, I have to avoid the internet for a little while, because inevitably, some asswipe will start arguing about how women need to be careful about how they drink, how some poor rapist dude’s life is ruined, how they’re going to tell their daughters not to party or drink because hook-up culture is a problem.
But, the latest case that’s enraptured the rape apologists of the internet provides perhaps one of the clearest examples of why drinking is not the problem, why the issue is not the behavior of women within “hook-up” culture. The father of the Stanford student who raped a local woman when she came to a party with her sister, wrote a letter to the court arguing for leniency in the sentencing of his son. Among other painfully tone-deaf statements, the father commented that he found it unfair that his son might get 20 years for what amounted to “20 minutes of action.”
There is no amount of non-drinking, no amount of coasters over drinks, no amount of modesty that can change an attitude which argues that the rape of an unconscious, black out drunk woman is “20 minutes of action.” There is nothing that a woman can do to ward off a man who has been taught that he is entitled to the bodies of women around him and that rape is not a serious violation of another human being’s body.
The predilection toward rape is a learned behavior. It is learned through speech about how sex is “scoring,” through the objectification of female bodies in media, through fathers excusing their sons’ actions as a sin of drinking rather than a sin of seeing other people’s bodies as belonging to him.
Drinking didn’t make Brock Turner rape. Drinking doesn't magically transpose your personality into some monstrous unrecognizable thing. I'm a fan of the idiom: "If you've said it drunk, you've thought it sober." Drinking doesn't make someone do something they wouldn't otherwise. Drinking simply brings those actions to the surface.
Brock Turner made Brock Turner rape. The culture surrounding him made it possible. But let’s keep in mind that Turner is the one who is guilty, who was caught, and who did it. He had help and he had the arrogance to think he could get away with it. But he still chose to rape.
Our culture just helped him get three months in jail and probation for it. Our culture just ensured he’d be able to look at the internet and find people defending him. Our culture told him drinking was a great and reasonable excuse, even though being drunk isn’t a mitigating factor in other crimes—even in public indecency arrests for peeing outside, drunkenness isn’t a defense.
It’s not our culture of drinking that’s the problem. It’s the fact that drinking has become a convenient cover for people who want to sexually assault others.