Against Rape

The Pennsylvania liquor board has pulled an anti-rape ad that it developed, over charges that the ad consists in blaming the victim.  Here's the text of the ad:

"SHE DIDN'T WANT TO DO IT, BUT SHE COULDN'T SAY NO:  When your friends drink, they can end up making bad decisions like going home with someone they don't know very well.  Decisions like that leave them vulnerable to dangers like date rape.  Help your friends stay in control and stay safe."

The website Jezebel objects:
Rape is not just a bad thing that happens to someone after drinking too much, a wave of nausea that ends in vomit that smells like Red Bull. It's not something the victim conjures up with a mixture of alcohol and phermones. It's a deliberate act on the part of the rapist, a violation of another person committed solely because the rapist wanted to rape. The sooner we acknowledge this, the sooner we'll be rid of stupid, finger wagging ads like these.
I'm not a big fan of public service ads like these either.  However, if we're going to have them, it is important that they be able to speak the truth.

As our co-blogger Joseph W. points out, from his perspective as a JAG lawyer, the ties between alcohol and rape are undeniable.  If we're going to flood the airwaves with warnings about not letting your friends drink and drive, why not ads that warn that you should probably not let your friends go home drunk with strangers?

To say that is not in any way to justify rape.  We can still place the full weight of the crime upon the shoulders of the rapist.  There is no suggestion that the woman deserves to be raped.  All that is being said is that she is vulnerable to being raped in this condition, and therefore you who are her friends ought to watch out for her.

I understand the objection to similar statements about wearing short skirts, but this ad is crucially different.  If you say "Don't wear a short skirt if you don't want to be raped," you do seem to be setting up a limit on women's behavior and free expression as a kind of price for safety.  This ad does not do that, however:  it doesn't suggest that women shouldn't drink.  It does suggest that they be responsible about it, but that's good advice for a whole host of reasons.  Yet even that is not a limit on women's behavior:  what the ad ends up advising is that if your friend decides to get really drunk, you should help her watch out for her safety.

This provokes another quote from the Havamal, a poem that is coming up surprisingly often when discussing feminist issues:
A better burden can no man bear
on the way than his mother wit:
and no worse provision can he carry with him
than too deep a draught of ale.

Less good than they say for the sons of men
is the drinking oft of ale:
for the more they drink, the less can they think
and keep a watch o'er their wits.
That's as true for women as for men.  The truth is no insult.  I hold it to be true that rapists should be hanged, and that women should not in any way be blamed for having been raped.  I also hold it to be true that it is wise to keep an eye on how much you drink, and in what company, and not to drink very much if you are not with people you trust completely.  I also hold it to be true that, if your friend happens to get really smashed, you have a duty as a friend to make sure they get home in one piece.

Why is it so difficult to speak these simple truths when it comes to rape, as opposed to avoiding the danger of being beaten and robbed in an alley?  Via Lars Walker, a report from Norway:

Lars notes the response of Norway's justice minister to the report:
After a police report in Oslo said that Muslims were raping Norwegian women out of a religious conviction that this was the proper thing to do,  a stormy public debate erupted, reports Bello, and “the government ministers, most of them avowed anti-Semites, claimed that the report and its publication serve Israel and its policy of occupation.” 
Norway’s justice minister defended the police report but also said that “Israel must be glad to hear about it.”
Do you comprehend the breathtaking Orwellianism here? “If we talk about the one thing these rapists have in common, we'll look like Nazis. Therefore, to distance ourselves from the Nazis, we'll find a way to scapegoat the Israelis.” 
We need to be able to speak the truth in these matters.  If we cannot speak the truth, it would be better to say nothing at all.

Even if you prefer to say nothing, however, your duty to your friends remains.  This is what friendship means:  it means we take care of each other.


Joseph W. said...

As our co-blogger Joseph W. points out, from his perspective as a JAG lawyer, the ties between alcohol and rape are undeniable.

Did I say that? I mean, it sounds like something I'd say, and it certainly does fit my experience of both weak and strong rape cases. I just don't recall saying it.

In my own little experience (it must be little; at my level, at least, we don't stay in criminal-law jobs that long) what is disturbing is the correlation between drug use and rape accusations. During my last assignment, I talked with a couple of rehab therapists (and a former heavy user) on the subject, who told me that the drugs I was asking about - methamphetamine, cocaine - over time made the users less honest and more selfish.

What frustrates me about the "don't blame the victim" drum beat is this: When I (as defense counsel) raised the accuser's behavior, it's because I was arguing she consented, and her behavior was evidence that she was actually in the mood for that, and agreed to it. (To include any drinking and drug use on that occasion - but the occasion would be too serious for me to cite that). I'm not "assuming she is a victim, and blaming her for her dress and behavior," but rather, "examining her behavior to see if her story hangs together, and if she really was a victim in the first place."

Everyone I talk to here, happily, can make that distinction.

Mark said...

"If we cannot speak the truth, it would be better to say nothing at all."

I am thinking of something smartass to say but cannot. Grim, if you are through annoying the Cassandra Person, better you than me, brother.

Grim said...


I recall your remarks having been in some comment thread on the issue of General Order #1; you were offering some statistics (as I recall) that showed a substantial decline in reports of rape or sexual assault when alcohol was not permitted. This was apropos of defending the proposition that there was more at state in GO#1 than an attempt by teetotaler general officers to impose their morality on deployed troops.

I'd link the comment, but unfortunately Blogger ate all of our Echo-based comment threads before this autumn, as you will recall.

As for the distinction you raise, of course I understand that the defense counsel has an obligation to protect their client's interests as well is lawful and proper. If your client believed he had received consent, it is naturally your obligation to try to demonstrate it.


Am I annoying Cassandra? I didn't mean to be. Rape is an offense I take seriously; I assure you that I'm not being playful in my condemnation of rapists, nor in calling for a kind of bluff honesty about what the risks are, and what our duties are as friends of women we would like not to see raped.

Put another way, if you as a man were the woman's friend, and she got really drunk one night, would you not consider it an obligation of honor to make sure she got home safe and sound? Of course you would. Probably you've actually performed the service, especially in youth; certainly I have. That's the kind of thing a friend ought to do.

Joseph W. said...

Oh, if that was the context, I don't doubt for a moment that I said it. (Informally, I noticed something similar in deployed units that didn't let the boys and the girls go in each other's trailers - an unpopular but justifiable policy.) In fact, I don't disagree with anything you're saying.

Mark said...

Whoa! wait, here, I am speaking of your tiff a few posts ago. Rape is reprehensible and totally beyond the pale. Not funny at all.

Dad29 said...

We need to be able to speak the truth in these matters

The Tower of Babel was built on relativism.

Eric said...

The Tower of Babel was built on relativism.

What in the world does that even mean?

Anonymous said...

Let me get this straight: you run a PSA reminding people that drinking can erode people's judgement and suggesting that they use a buddy system to help prevent very bad things from happening. And that is blaming the victim?

What an utterly foolish, misguided, thoughtless, [rude adverb, rude gerund] way to look at things! Ye gads and little fishes.

As for the Norwegian officials, my thoughts are best left un-uttered. May they receive that which they deserve.