Widely used definitions of alcohol-enabled sexual assault wrongly conflate drunk sex and rape—and perpetuate a blatantly sexist double standard.
The subject of alcohol and sexual assault, particularly among college students, has generated much sound and fury recently. A few months ago, there was the outcry over Emily Yoffe’s Slate.com article arguing that we should be more outspoken in warning young women that heavy drinking puts them at risk of rape. Now, Wall Street Journal columnist James Taranto is under heavy fire,accused of arguing that rape victims who are drunk are just as guilty as their rapists.
Taranto, whose past commentary includes blaming too much female education for the downfall of marriage, is not a particularly sympathetic figure when it comes to gender issues. But on this occasion, he’s getting a bum rap, and his column makes an important (and egregiously misinterpreted) point that needs to be made: A lot of current rhetoric wrongly conflates drunk sex and rape—and perpetuates a blatantly sexist double standard.
Certainly, if an intoxicated woman is raped while unconscious or barely conscious, she is not, whatever her errors of judgment, at fault in the attack. But widely used definitions of alcohol-enabled sexual assault, in both activist rhetoric and official policy, cover a far broader range of far more ambiguous situations.