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Rape and alcohol: two separate issues that too often intertwine

As the Stanford rape case shows, it’s impossible to ignore the relationship between drinking alcohol and rapists that prey on inebriated women

I say, throw the book at the Stanford rapist. Enact the type of mandatory minimum sentencing laws for rape that drug dealers serving harsh prison sentences have to face. But don’t let yourself think that longer jail terms will act as a deterrent for sexual assault.

If a rapist is taking advantage of an opportunity to rape, I doubt he’s going to let the difference between a six month or a six year sentence influence his decision to act. The Stanford rapist committed his rape thinking that he’d get zero jail time. I bet that, while violating this woman, the thought of going to jail never crossed his mind. If anything, he was probably sure of the fact that he’d away with it. And if all of the stuff I’ve read about sexual assault is true, many rapists do indeed get away with it.

That’s the type of mentality that needs to change. We need a cultural shift in consciousness to the point where everyone knows almost as an instinct that a rape is going to end with a harsh punishment after a swift trial. We need to erase as much of the ambiguity involved in sexual assault as we can, so that rape becomes the clear cut felony offense that it is.

But as a separate point of discussion, while I in no way blame the victim for being raped, I think that we also need to have a long overdue conversation about binge drinking and the culture of excess on many college campuses. As the Stanford rape victim pointed out, her getting blackout drunk was not the crime that that took place that night. I agree with that one hundred percent. But I can’t ignore the fact that, in getting blackout drunk, a woman puts herself at risk of falling prey to sexual predators. It’s a failure of society that it has to be this way, but that doesn’t make the decision to drink any safer.

I’ve been hearing stuff like, alcohol is a normal, socially accepted pastime. Well, maybe while we get busy educating and codifying definitions of rape, assault, and consent, we also have a separate conversation about the very real dangers involved with consuming alcohol, dangers and risks that get swept under the rug in an effort to maintain this popular image of casual drinking as a relatively safe and mainstream activity.

I’m not trying to be a total buzzkill here. Lots of people drink responsibly. But lots of people don’t. And again, I can’t emphasize enough how I’m not blaming the victim of the Stanford rape for getting drunk. But as we deal with this very public, all too common example of a sexual assault intertwining with a night of excessive drinking, if we’re being honest, can we ask why it’s ever a good idea to drink to the point of blackout? Passing out is rarely the goal of even a heavy night out, but in terms of risk v. reward, I don’t see the upside of even accidentally taking it that far. And why is it so common at college to drink and drink and drink?

Rapes happen with or without alcohol. But making a decision to take part in binge drinking comes along with certain consequences, like lowered defenses against predators, like an inability to remember what happened. Again, this does not excuse the rape. And yeah, we should absolutely be living in a world where guys and girls can make equal decisions about alcohol without women unfairly having to deal with the burden of worrying about sexual assault.

But, most importantly, we need to do a better job about clearly defining consent. And as it stands right now, there are too many men out there who either don’t understand that definition, or use the excuse of ignorance to feel entitled to take advantage and prey on drunk women with their defenses impaired by alcohol. It’s unfortunate that when a woman makes a choice to get drunk, that it comes along with a lot more risk than it does for a man. That’s not fair, but that’s the reality of the situation.

But like I hope I’ve made clear, I think the primary task ahead of us is making it understood that rape will not be tolerated in our society. We’ve got to do better than six month sentences for rapists. We need to do a better job of educating boys from an early age on a comprehensive definition of consent. We need a total shift in consciousness regarding what it means to engage in any mutual sexual activity. But at the same time, we should be aware that all the education in the world is unlikely to stop a sexual predator from at least attempting to seek out situations in which he might take advantage of an opportunity to rape. Inherent in that fact is the truth that alcohol, especially in excess, causes a physical vulnerability. These are two separate problems that far too often wind up intertwined.