Dear Internet: Thanks for the Advice on Sex and Drinking. It's Way Better than What We Get from Slate.

Are we starting to see a cultural shift in how our society thinks about rape? The huge online response to a Slate columnist who told women to avoid rape by not drinking suggests that it's starting to happen.
Clinking Glasses

On Tuesday evening, Slate's "Dear Prudence" columnist, Emily Yoffe, posted this article, which linked women's alcohol consumption to sexual assault. In it, she charges that college-aged women should be advised to curb their alcohol use, because it is a "common denominator" in most cases of rape.

The sheer number of responses to Yoffe indicates that we are starting to change the way we think about this issue.

"Misplaced fear of blaming the victim," she wrote, "has made it somehow unacceptable to warn inexperienced young women that when they get wasted, they are putting themselves in potential peril."

But as the increasingly numerous critics of her post have pointed out, women have repeatedly been told to modify their behavior in order to avoid such tragic consequences.

Yoffe herself addressed the controversy surrounding her argument in a new piece, saying, "Because of the strong evidence that intoxication and sexual assault are linked and that a kind of predator seeks out intoxicated women, I concentrated on informing young women that avoiding incapacitation could help them stay safe."

What Yoffe fails to recognize, however, is that the information she provided is not new. It's a classic example of victim-blaming. And her response continues to leave unchallenged the dominant framework surrounding this issue.

Yet the article has also led to positive dialoguefrom both women and men.

Several writers have used this as an opportunity to bring up an important missing link in traditional discussions of rape and sexual violence: the role of men.

Here are a few of our favorite responses.

  1. Jessica Valenti, writing for The Nation, brought in the broader context of rape culture: "When we make victims' choices the focus of rape prevention, we make the world a safer place for rapists ... You know why rapists ... rape women? Because they know the victim's community and law enforcement will be less likely to believe them."
  2. Tyler Kingkade of the Huffington Post offered a male perspective. He wrote, "A woman should not have to fear that if she reaches a certain blood alcohol level, one of her friends, acquaintances or even boyfriend might sexually assault her."
  3. If you’re in need of some comic relief, BuzzFeed responded to quotes from the article through a series of over-the-top reaction shots in the form of animated GIFs depicting the rapper Drake. The author added, "Women should be able to live in a world where they can drink to their heart's content without having to worry about being violently assaulted." We'll drink (multiple drinks) to that!
  4. Amanda Hess, another contributing writer for Slate, had a few things to say: "We can prevent the most rapes on campus by putting our efforts toward finding and punishing those perpetrators, not by warning their huge number of potential victims to skip out on parties."
  5. The Atlantic Wire's headline put it succinctly: "Slate Forgot That the One Common Factor in Rapes are Rapists."

Rape and sexual assault continue to be a serious issue in our society. The Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network reports that there are more than 200,000 victims of rape and sexual assault each year in the United States. That's dire news. But the sheer number of responses to Yoffe indicates that we are starting to change the way we think about this issue.

We are far from being free from sexual violence, but by shifting our focus to the perpetrator's behavior, rather than the victim, and by constructively drawing attention to the failure of others to do so, it brings us one step closer to that goal. And the fact that we are seeing the media view it this way is a good sign.

If you want more information on changing the way we think about gender and violence, check out this TED talk by Jackson Katz, Ph.D.

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