Victim Blaming?

The New York Times has a "Room for Debate" feature today on whether young women should be advised against binge drinking at college parties, to reduce their risk of being raped.  In the introduction it says "studies have repeatedly found an association between binge drinking and rape on college campuses."  So of course women should be advised against binge drinking....?  No, half the debaters say such advice is pernicious because it blames women for being raped.  Louise Anthony offers this analogy: advising people not to chew ice is fine, since it's in the nature of chewing ice that it damages teeth. But advising black men not to walk around in white neighborhoods is problematic, since it's not natural that they run the risk of being harassed and assaulted.  The focus should be on reducing the harassment and assault.  Likewise with advising young women.
The special risk that drunkenness poses to women – that’s due to a social climate that tolerates sexual predation. When 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, that we have chosen to regard misogyny as inevitable.

I can't imagine caring parents and parental figures thinking this way.  How would it go?  Let's see.  Our daughter Maria is going rock climbing and likes to drink.  May we tell her to stay sober, to avoid plunging to her death?  Yes we may, because it's in the nature of safe rock climbing to require sobriety. If she did fall while drinking, it wouldn't be the fault of any second party, so we can warn her without committing the sin of blaming the victim.  Our other daughter, Laura, is going to a car dealership to buy a car. May we tell her to go there sober, to avoid being taken advantage of by the sales person?  No, because it's not in the nature of drinking to cause people to be swindled.  If we tell her to stay sober, we'll be sending the message that we don't intend to change the behavior of car dealers, that we have chosen to regard swindling as inevitable.

If Maria and Laura are my daughters, I'm not going to think this way. I'm going to tell them both to stay sober to protect themselves.  I don't think I'm going to care about "messages"-- I'm just going to want to protect my daughters.  But supposed I did care.  There's still be no problem with warning both Maria and Laura.   Cause is one thing, blame is another.  Laura's drunkenness may be one cause of her winding up being swindled, but only the swindler has the mens rea that is crucial for moral and legal responsibility.  We can actually point out drunkenness as a cause and not blame the drinker for the things others do to her.

Now, you might say binge drinking at a party is different from drinking at a car dealership, because nobody regards drinking while buying car as a valuable liberty.  Advising women against drinking at parties is more like advising black men against walking in white neighborhoods.  But why talk about that, and not something more pertinent to women and rape? As a young woman in Boston, I resented having to take so many precautions when walking home late at night.  All that vigilance, checking behind me, walking fast, looking for streetlights, avoiding the wee hours--my liberty to walk home at all times and while day-dreaming was definitely curtailed.  But would any parent not advise daughters about where, when, and how they get about in a city, for fear of victim blaming?  If so, I'm speechless!

Yes, of course, the real problem when it comes to rape, assault, harassment, shady salesman, etc., is the agent who perpetrates these things.  So if you're going to advise your daughters against binge drinking at college, you should be shot (not to put too fine a point on it) if you don't also advise your sons against binge drinking at college parties. No doubt studies also show that more rapes happen when men are drinking a lot. We should be trying to reduce the incidence of rape as well as helping our daughters avoid becoming victims of rape.  Of course.


Deepak Shetty said...

While I agree that you have to deal with the real world which means you have to make less than ideal decisions , the reasoning you are employing seems to be faulty

If Maria and Laura are my daughters, I'm not going to think this way. I'm going to tell them both to stay sober to protect themselves. I don't think I'm going to care about "messages"-- I'm just going to want to protect my daughters.
(Only for the sake of argument , Im not saying there is a correlation below)
Assume there is a correlation between women who get raped and women who are not fully clothed from head to toe. Following your reasoning, a parent should advice women to wear burkha's to protect themselves?
Or assume there is a correlation between women who get raped and women who go out of the house (for work or fun) v/s those who are locked up in the house - perhaps the advice should be that women should abandon their careers and not leave the house?
I would think you'd disagree.
I think that parents advising their children against drinking is different than the above two cases
because binge drinking is harmful by itself and can have numerous other issues due to impaired judgement without the element of rape and hence it appears more reasonable to warn against it.
I'd also say the amount of time and effort that some people spend telling what women should do is totally disproportionate to the amount of time they spend trying to oppose the perpetrators of crimes against women.

Jean Kazez said...

Deepak, I never embraced a premise that says "We must advise our daughters to do absolutely everything in their power to protect themselves." Only that absurd premise leads to the idea that we must tell our daughters to wear burkas or stay locked up in their houses. There's nothing in my post to suggest I accept that absurd premise.

Axel Blaster said...

I concur with you analysis. I think this boils down to a "Risk Communication" issue.

Deepak Shetty said...

There's nothing in my post to suggest I accept that absurd premise.
On what basis then are you saying we can advise daughters to not perform Action A (since A correlates to more rape) but say nothing about Action B (since B correlates to more rape as well)
Conservative parents might say they advise their daughters to cover themselves or stay at home to protect themselves- the same way as you say stay sober to protect themselves.

Jean Kazez said...

Protecting your children means advising them to make reasonable sacrifices for the sake of safety. Certainly staying at home 24 hours a day is too great a sacrifice. Some people deny that, but I'm prepared to say they're simply wrong. This involves honest reflection on what's important in life and there's certainly a personal and cultural element there. But that said, no, you can't have a perfectly good life while locked up full time in your house. I would advise my daughter not to walk home in dark alleys, because I think she can live a perfectly good life without doing that. Likewise, I think she can live a perfectly good life without binge drinking at frat parties. I think it really is completely silly to think that once you've advised a daughter to back off from binge drinking at parties, you're on a slippery slide and you'll have to tell her to lock herself up at home full time.

Deepak Shetty said...

I mostly agree with your comment above and that's what Im saying - your original post did not differentiate. Your words were as a parent you dont care about the message and you care about protection! You didnt have the elements you have added in your last comment - the cost / benefit of the activity in question.

However it still needs more nuance - I suppose you could live a perfectly good life without wearing a mini skirt - but I think you'd have objections to parents advising their children to dress conservatively . In places like India this is almost guaranteed to get you harassed , verbally atleast so this isn't a theoretical problem.

Craig Urias said...

I would frame it as 'information', not 'advice'. Women certainly have a right to know the statistics, and they can decide for themselves what to do with the information. Withholding information for fear of the 'message' it sends is patronizing and is a disservice to them. Well what if conveying information comes off advice anyway? That's what disclaimers are for: "I'm not telling you what to do, and I trust you to make your own decisions, but you should be aware that..."

Justin said...

It seems like much of this debate hinges on the assumption that we can send only extremely simple messages to college-aged women and to black men, messages like "Don't drink" or "Don't walk in white neighborhoods".

Why not send a more nuanced message: "The world contains a lot of rapists/racists/sleazy used car salesmen, and unfortunately they're hard to catch and stop, though we're working on it. For now, the safest thing for you to do often is to take precautions..." Most people are perfectly capable of understanding a more nuanced message like this, and this seems entirely to avoid the worries about blaming victims or endorsing the status quo.

(I take this to be entirely in line with your post, Jean.)