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Commentators Discuss Victim Blaming, Role of Alcohol in Rape in NYT's 'Room for Debate'

Commentators Discuss Victim Blaming, Role of Alcohol in Rape in NYT's 'Room for Debate'

October 25, 2013 — In a New York Times' "Room for Debate," commentators offer their thoughts on whether it is wrong to ask "women not to get blind drunk" in order to avoid rape, given that "excessive alcohol consumption [is] a problem among young people."

The Times debate, in part, is a response to a recent Slate column that was widely criticized as blaming rape victims -- rather than rapists themselves -- because it urged women to drink more moderately as a way of protecting themselves from sexual assault.

Commentators include Anne Coughlin, a law professor at the University of Virginia; author and college lecturer Koren Zailckas; Louise Antony, a philosophy professor at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst; the Nation Institute's Knobler fellow, Mychal Denzel Smith; Alexandra Brodsky, a Feministing editor, Yale Law School student and founding co-organizer of Know Your IX; and author and Dillard University President Walter Kimbrough.


Most participants acknowledged that binge drinking is associated with negative health effects, but they differed on whether women should be advised to limit their alcohol consumption as a way to deter rapists.

For example, Coughlin said "we should be wary of saying anything that will reinforce the sexual double standard that has made it difficult to prosecute even the most violent rapes," such as telling women to behave, dress or drink differently than men. However, she argued that "it is essential -- in some spaces, at some times, for some audiences -- to make sure that women are told how to protect themselves."

Meanwhile, Antony argued that "[w]hen we tell young women to stay sober in order to avoid getting raped, we send the message that we do not intend to change that social climate" and "that we have chosen to regard misogyny as inevitable" ("Room for Debate," New York Times, 10/24).

Slate Article Applies to 'Real World,' Washington Post Columnist Marcus Says

Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus on Thursday responded to criticism of the Slate article and defended Yoffe, whom she notes is "a close friend."

Marcus writes that the "message" of Yoffe's article "was as important as it was obvious: The best step that young women can take to protect themselves is to stop drinking to excess." She argues, "Young women everywhere -- not to mention their mothers -- ought to be thanking Yoffe" instead of criticizing her, adding that "no one's suggesting that our daughters should be holed up in the library studying every night, forswearing any semblance of a social life."

Marcus continues, "None of this -- none of it -- excuses men, sober or drunk, who prey on women, sober or drunk, to have sex without giving consent." She concludes, "This isn't a gender studies class; it's the real world," where Yoffe's article should "be required reading for every college student, male and female" (Marcus, Washington Post, 10/24).