I like a drink. Sometimes I like one or two drinks. Sometimes I like to drink more than five cocktails and dance with my best friends, my hair as big as all the secrets that will spill out that night, lips loosened by gin and cigarette smoke. Sometimes I’m sensible when I’m drunk and I walk home with a friend or get a taxi. Sometimes I’m stupid and I walk home by myself, stumbling into bushes and trying to kidnap any cat that crosses my path. Luckily nothing has ever happened to me whilst I’ve walked home alone, bar a period where I kept drunk ordering on Amazon and thought I had a secret admirer who was sending me thoughtful (if slightly random) gifts. I count myself lucky that every time I’ve walked home by myself, I’ve been fine. However, I keep seeing the same tired horrible point made in drink awareness campaigns focused at women – women shouldn’t drink too much in case they get raped. The linking of excessive alcohol consumption with rape is ridiculous and crosses the dividing line between someone being responsible for the amount of the alcohol they drink and someone getting raped and being partially responsible because they were excessively drunk. If I go out and get drunk and raped what am I responsible for? Being drunk? Being drunk AND raped? It doesn’t matter if I walk around wasted and naked except for artfully placed vodka labels over my nipples at 5 am, it doesn’t give anyone else the right to rape me. The only way to avoid getting raped is to not be in the company of rapists, which is unfortunately entirely impossible.
This drink awareness tactic is often used when talking about precautionary actions to avoid rape and links to a dangerous premise – if you take the argument that women ‘should not’ make themselves vulnerable to its logical conclusion what happens? So I go out in a short skirt, get pissed and am raped. If society says I should not have done that does my attacker get a lesser sentence to reflect this? Or no sentence? Who would decide what counted as ‘vulnerable’ or provocative dress or enough alcohol? And in what way should it count against me? I just don’t get it. ‘Women shouldn’t drink too much for fear of being raped’ soon turns into “Well if she’d followed this advice she wouldn’t have been raped” which turns into ‘It’s her own fault she got raped.’ The conversation about responsible drinking is necessary and important in today’s society but it shouldn’t involve the correlation of rape, drinking to excess carries many other risks that should be highlighted.
I have filthied many a gutter but I didn’t deserve to get raped for it. We are all responsible for our own behaviour of course, but no one deserves to get attacked when they are vulnerable. Taking preventive measures and following common sense rules are always important but with regard to rape, they can have little bearing on whether you become a rape victim or not. But working to change the culture – educating and targeting people about consent and changing attitudes DOES work. Women will never be able to win whilst we are told ‘don’t be alone’ and ‘don’t be with strangers’ whilst the statistics tell us that the majority of rapists are not strangers, but rather known to their victims, and that many rapes occur in a place that the woman had previously viewed as a ‘safe place’, like their own home, or that of a friend. What I’m wearing, how drunk I am etc is one thing, but the majority of rape is conducted in situations where the vulnerability is the result of trust. Adverts that say ‘don’t drink’ are brilliant and advice I should take more often. If they wanted to truly be accurate, perhaps they should say ‘Don’t drink too much because you will get off with your boss, spill cheesy chips down your best top and leave your favourite purple suede shoes in a taxi.’
I get what people are saying about “everyone should be careful with drinking”, but the thing is that the rape prevention conversation is never couched just in those terms. Not making yourself vulnerable also apparently involves not wearing that skirt, not behaving in a way that could be interpreted as seductive, not talking to strangers, not going out alone after dark etc.
So what is the obvious conclusion? To never go to the gym, or to never wear anything that shows a bit of ankle, or to never smile or make eye contact with a man, because, oh shit, that might be interpreted as seductive?… To only spend time with people you trust? Oh shit, the majority of rapists are people you already know… To never leave the house? Oh shit, many rapes happen in the woman’s home… So what? To move to a nunnery? Or what? Because I’m seriously running out of options here.
THIS is why telling women and girls not to slut it about isn’t good enough. THIS is why focussing anti-rape messages on women won’t stop rape. What we need is a sea change in how society view and understand women. Telling girls to stay sober won’t help the cause. In fact, by putting the onus on women rather than men, it does the opposite. Now where’s that gin?