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PHOTO: Richard Potts
Dear Emily Yoffe,
On behalf of the numerous women who have been sexually assaulted while drunk, I beg you to reconsider your opinion that teaching girls not to drink will prevent rape.
Your recent Slate article, ‘College Women: Stop Getting Drunk,’ oversimplifies the issue and does absolutely nothing to help prevent sexual assault.
Your article does, however, reinforce the undying idea within our rape culture that if a woman breaks a “rule” and gets raped, she had it coming to her.
I absolutely agree that all women and girls should be informed via many outlets (school, parents, medical professionals, etc.) about risk and harm reduction techniques. Learning to moderate your drinking, protect your cup against drugs, and even basic self-defense techniques are all important for a woman’s safety.
That being said, telling girls and young women that they can’t drink because they could get raped isn’t going to stop anyone from experimenting with alcohol. And it won’t change the fact that men who take advantage of them in that situation are rapists.
If your article had been published while I was in college, if I had read it, I don’t think it would have changed anything for me. I had already been warned in health class, in alcohol assemblies, at a school retreat, and in several other venues, including freshman orientation, about the dangers of drinking.
I knew drinking was dangerous, and I refused to compromise myself by trying to sneak into bars or drinking at parties with strangers. People often regarded me as a wet blanket because I never wanted to “party.”
Sometimes though, humans make stupid choices. So when my roommates wanted to get drunk on Memorial Day weekend my sophomore year, I joined them on the porch for a night of what can only be called binge drinking. I didn’t set out to get sexually assaulted that night, but I’m pretty sure that’s what happened.
I was twenty, and I was drinking with much more seasoned roommates: my close friend, her alcoholic boyfriend, his best friend, and our downstairs neighbor (my recent ex). They thought my inability to hold my liquor was funny, and I ended up drinking out of a sippy cup for their entertainment. At several points during the night, my ex (let’s call him Joe) tried to cozy up to me, and I politely but firmly refused his advances. Joe made sure my sippy cup never ran dry.
The booze caught up with me soon enough, and I ended up shambling through my neighbor’s apartment with some of the guys to use the bathroom. The last thing I really remember is stumbling on my way to the door and going down to my knees. Joe grabbed me under the arms and pulled me into his bedroom in full view of my roommate’s boyfriend. I remember catching his eye and thinking I would rather have his help than Joe’s. I remember that as I was being dragged away I laughed and tried to hit Joe, and that I then told him to let me go because I had a drink to finish. By that point he had me through the door. Then I think I passed out the second my face hit the pillow.
I woke up because I was wet and cold. It turns out Joe was drunk too. He was so drunk, in fact, that he had pissed the bed. It took me a minute to figure out where I was. You see, Joe and I hadn’t had sex when we were dating. We hadn’t even gotten to second base. I knew his room, sure, but I wasn’t used to waking up there.
My pants were off, but my underwear was still on. I dressed myself, trying not to make a big deal about the whole wetting the sheets thing or how my underwear was sticking to my butt. Joe began explaining quickly that nothing had happened; he had taken my jeans off so I could be comfortable. Later, he said he had just passed out next to me. I felt uneasy about it, but I didn’t push it. I just wanted to get upstairs to my apartment and shower the urine off my back.
When I dragged myself up the stairs, my roommates greeted me with catcalls and a few derisive declarations from my close friend about how I needed to have more self respect. Her boyfriend (whose advances I had rejected the night of the break-up with Joe) had told them all I was spending the night down there.
I didn’t argue. I just told them all I didn’t think anything had happened and that I needed a shower. The conversation didn’t end there. They kept picking on me about it for the rest of the week, teasing me and calling me a slut. It hurt, but I kept my mouth shut because I didn’t want to seem like a drama queen.
The following weekend, the entire situation exploded. Joe had a drinking problem, and he had gotten very drunk. My friend decided to grab his whiskey while he was in the bathroom. She hid it in our apartment so that he could sober up. Instead, he came upstairs and rampaged, tearing through the rooms looking for his booze and bragging about how he had slept with me the previous weekend in very crude, slurred shouts.
I don’t remember the sex, and I think it’s probably better that way because everyone I trusted continued telling me to my face that it was my fault (an idea your article only helps to reinforce). I didn’t even get counseling for what I was going through, let alone consider pressing charges. Before writing this letter to you, I don’t think I’ve even referred to what happened that night as sexual assault. I don’t talk about it much, mind you, but the few times I’ve discussed it with my husband I’ve referred to it as “the time I got way too drunk.”
You know what might have stopped what happened to me? The people drinking with me could have stopped it, if they had respected my repeated rejections of his advances over his persistence. Someone else reporting Joe for doing what he apparently does to a lot of girls could have stopped it. Nine years ago, if I had made a different choice, I could have stopped it before he did it to who knows how many other women. As far as I know, Joe’s still single and still has a “get drunk, hit it, and quit it” policy.
You know what really wouldn’t have changed things in the big picture? My not drinking. Sure, I wouldn’t have had a rotten weekend, but Joe would have done it to someone else in a week or two anyway. One person not getting raped doesn’t stop the rapist from attacking someone else.
The only thing that can really stop guys like Joe from taking advantage of drunk girls is a change in culture. It can’t be acceptable for Joe to tell his friends he “banged some chick who was wasted.” A drunk or intoxicated person is incapable of consent, and Joe’s buddies are high-fiving him for being a serial rapist. Short of Joe exhibiting an ounce of self-control and respect for other people, the only thing that can stop him and guys like him from raping girls who are drunk is for them to actually experience consequences for their actions.
You’ll be happy to know, Emily, that I learned my lesson, even if Joe didn’t learn his. I don’t drink anymore. It’s just like you said: he gets a free pass for his behavior, and I have to deal with the guilt and the blame from people like you and my roommates. I’m sick and tired of being told that if only I’d refrained from getting drunk, I wouldn’t have ended up in such a compromised position.
The sad truth is that for each woman or girl who avoids sexual assault by not getting drunk, there will be another drunk female in her place. Until we deal with the real issue, which is that far too many rapists can repeatedly attack with impunity if their victim is drunk (or heaven forbid, high on drugs), the number of rapes won’t drop. The number of reported rapes will. And no one wins in that situation but rapists.