Alcohol, assault and laying blame

  • Posted: Friday, October 25, 2013 12:01 a.m.

Appropriate-age drinking isn’t a crime, but rape is.

And a woman who has been drinking is in no way to blame if she is raped. That blame lies squarely and altogether with the man who assaulted her.

Women who have been drinking alcohol are not asking to be assaulted any more than women in the military are, and it’s estimated that 20 percent of active-duty female soldiers have been sexually assaulted.

Still, an email to students from the College of Charleston’s security force, while controversial, was timely and provided important information about steps to take to avoid being assaulted. Walk in groups in well-lighted areas. Let someone know where you are and when to expect you back. And, yes, be aware that at least 50 percent of college student sexual assaults are associated with alcohol use by the perpetrator, victim or both.

The email has drawn criticism from those who think it suggests sexual assault victims who have been drinking are partly culpable.

There is a big difference between acknowledging that a woman puts herself at greater risk by drinking (rational) and insinuating that any woman would invite assault — even while drinking (irrational).

This week, two alleged sexual assaults near the campus were reported to College of Charleston police. The police email described those incidents and noted that in both cases the victims had been drinking.

Some experts say linking sexual assault to the victim’s drinking is akin to linking an assault to the victim wearing a short skirt: unfair, misleading and unacceptable.

But warning students — male or female — that drinking is often involved in sexual assaults is a responsible thing for the department charged with keeping students, staff and faculty safe.

Perhaps it would have been helpful had the email included statistics about alcohol use and other assaults. Students who are intoxicated — male and female — also have been held up and robbed.

Or perhaps it would have been helpful to note that alcohol abuse by the perpetrator was determined to be a factor in more than a third of violent crimes committed in the nation. Men and women alike who are with intoxicated people might make better decisions if they remember that.

Dean Kilpatrick, board chairman of People Against Rape and director of the National Crime Victims Center at the Medical University of South Carolina, expressed concerns that the email might be misinterpreted by the public as an indictment of victims who had been drinking.

But he also commended the College of Charleston for notifying students of the alleged assaults — some colleges have been loath to do so out of concern for their reputations.

And he acknowledged that alcohol is a major risk factor in sexual assaults.

People can do stupid things when they are drunk. Really stupid things.

It’s absurd to suggest that a woman, even intoxicated, would be to blame for being raped. But statistics show that a woman who is intoxicated is more likely to be assaulted.

The lesson seems clear, and the College of Charleston email can be seen as simply delivering a message that just might prevent some sexual assaults.

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