EDITOR’S NOTE: This column was presented in the Sept. 2, 2014 print edition of The Daily Wildcat as part of a “head-to-head” feature on the Opinion page. These were companion columns addressing an important campus issue and not intended to be read separately. To read the companion piece click here.
Let’s get one thing straight: Alcohol does not absolve a person of responsibility for their actions. A drunk driver bears full responsibility if they injure another person. Being convicted of committing murder while intoxicated still leads to life in prison.
With these precedents firmly set, it seems obvious that perpetrators of sexual assault should be held to the same standards. If a drunken man rapes his girlfriend, he must be punished accordingly. Why, then, does society excuse the behavior of young men who commit acts of sexual violence while under the influence of alcohol?
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One commonly heard defense for sexual assault is, “She was drunk, too.” But alcohol impairment leads to high levels of vulnerability and impaired judgment, and sexually assaulting a woman while her decision-making skills are compromised constitutes rape. If “we were all drunk” is not an acceptable excuse for driving a car into a building, it is not an acceptable excuse for sexual violence.
This article must not be misconstrued to suggest that women should not take actions to protect themselves from sexual assault. Clearly, women need to consume alcohol responsibly. Everyone should. But telling women, “Don’t get raped, and if you do, it’s because you didn’t have a plan,” ignores the root causes of sexual violence within universities.
The reality is that the atmosphere at college parties lends itself to the mistreatment of women. In order to enter most fraternity parties, a man must bring a certain number of women — the epitome of objectification. And there exists among some men an expectation of sex in return for throwing parties, providing drinks or dancing with women.
No level of preparedness can prevent rape. A woman armed with sobriety and pepper spray can fall victim to sexual violence simply by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Unlike lung cancer, which can be avoided through one’s own decisions, sexual violence results from the actions of another person.
And because the consequences of sex are far greater for women than for men, and because society stigmatizes reporting acts of sexual violence, women cannot always escape such unsolicited actions.
If you are going to criticize women for making poor decisions under the influence of alcohol, you must be prepared to hold men accountable for their decisions, too.
Universities can and must reduce rates of sexual violence on campus, but they will not succeed by admonishing young women not to drink. Alcohol is too deeply embedded in college culture for such an approach to succeed. Instead, universities should launch a campaign aimed at teaching young men not to rape.
—Elizabeth Hannah is a neuroscience and cognitive science sophomore. Follow her @ehannah10