Blaming the victims

If you drink and get raped, how much responsibility should you bear for your bad decisions?

By Sarah Elizabeth Richards
April 18, 2006 5:47PM (UTC)
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What do the murder of graduate student Imette St. Guillen and the alleged rape and kidnapping of a stripper at a Duke lacrosse party have in common? According to a recent infuriating Op-Ed titled "Ladies, You Should Know Better: How Feminism Wages War on Common Sense" in the Wall Street Journal, the women made themselves vulnerable to being attacked by acting foolish and irresponsible. St. Guillen had no business drinking alone in a bar at 3 a.m. on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. And the stripper made the mistake of dancing for 40 men when she originally had agreed to dance for four and returning to the party after racial slurs and violent threats sent her fleeing. "A stripper with street smarts is apparently a Hollywood myth," writes Naomi Schaefer Riley, the Journal's deputy Taste-page editor.

Whoa! It has been a while since we at Broadsheet were slapped in the face with "blaming the victim" logic. What about the one in 20 women who were raped in college during the past seven months, according to the Harvard School of Public Health? Riley doesn't say so outright but infers that these women could have done a better job of holding their liquor. "Rape statistics are notoriously unreliable, but the kicker rings true: 'Nearly three-quarters of those rapes happened when the victims were so intoxicated they were unable to consent or refuse.' And those are just the ones who admitted it," she writes. Gee, I wonder if they wore slutty outfits, too.


Then she goes so far as to suggest that feminism may be partly responsible, referring to the finding in Time magazine reporter Barrett Seaman's book "Binge" that many college women see drinking as a gender equity issue and feel they have as much right to drink as men.

It's true that binge drinking among women is alarmingly on the upswing, but it's a complicated issue. Few women drink because they "can" or because they want to compete with men. But if we follow Riley's logic, women's liberation gave women the right to shed social constraints and, now, these women are chugging themselves silly, losing their wits and getting themselves raped. Apparently, they need to remember they are women. "Leaving biology aside -- most women's bodies can't take as much alcohol as men's -- the fact of the matter is that men simply are not, to use the phrase of another generation, 'taken advantage of' in the way women are," she writes.

Riley does have some useful motherly advice for boozing college women -- namely, "Be wary of drunken house parties." Hooray for common sense and personal responsibility! But where's the advice to men to stop scamming on the drunken women? Yes, intoxicated women -- and last I checked, men -- do stupid things. An argument could be made that St. Guillen or the Duke woman could have made better choices. But why are we shifting the focus away from their attackers?

Sarah Elizabeth Richards

Sarah Elizabeth Richards is a journalist based in New York. She can be reached at

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