Is it so shocking to believe that women should be able to get blind drunk without being raped?

Offensive? The poster warning against binge drinking

In December, I spoke to the Yorkshire Post about the above poster produced by Calderdale Council.  Anti sexual-violence posters are regularly produced by police forces to celebrate Christmas, a collection of which are reviewed in this piece by Ending Victimisation and Blame.  Campaign messages are not neutral.  They can either reinforce or challenge accepted narratives.  Calderdale’s poster, like too many others, reinforces the message that women should be held responsible for what happens to them.

Though the poster doesn’t explicitly mention rape,  the lines “when you drink too much you lose control and put yourself at risk” together with an image of a dishevelled young woman in a short dress, make clear that the risk is that of sexual violence. The article was picked up widely re-reported including in The Independent and Daily Mail and eventually discussed in a piece by Sarah Vine under the title “Sorry sisters, but girls who get blind drunk ARE risking rape” in which she stated her  refusal to join “the chorus of feminist disapproval” and argued that women need to take responsibility for their own safety, going on to mention “one or two nasty brushes” that made her realise how important it was to not willingly put herself in the path of danger and “stupidly” becoming a victim.

The concept of a victim of violence ‘willingly and stupidly putting themselves in the path of danger’ is judgemental victim blaming.  Whether though an act of choosing  or not choosing to do something, a victim of sexual violence is never responsible for what is done to them. Rapists and abusers are the only ones responsible for rape and abuse.

Rapists and abusers use excuses to justify their actions,  to discredit their victims and to shift responsibility for their choices away from themselves and on to their victims.  They use exactly the kind of excuses encapsulated in the Calderdale poster and Vine’s piece, in short: “She didn’t take care. “ or “She was asking for it.”

The government estimates that there are around 78,000 rapes in the UK every year, that’s 214 every day. On top of this, there are an estimated 476,000 other sexual offences. Women and girls make up the vast majority of victims and 95% of those who experience serious sexual assault identify the offender as male. Most – but not all –  victims of sexual violence and abuse are stone cold sober when they are abused.  Those who are drunk or intoxicated through drug use are no more deserving of abuse. Most (an estimated 91%) victims of rape and sexual violence know their attacker before they are abused.  45% of rape victim/survivors identifying a current partner   as the rapist, a further 11% identifying a date and yet a further 11% identifying a former partner.  It’s hard to see how Christmas and New Year sobriety would make any difference to these women.

Sex with a person whose judgement is impaired – for example through alcohol or drugs – means they are legally unable to consent.  Non-consensual sex is rape.  If Calderdale Council want to run a useful campaign related to increased alcohol consumption around Christmas and New Year, they might consider  addressing this issue instead. It’s hard for me to imagine that their poster would prevent any woman from drinking.  Perhaps I’m naive to the powers of persuasion of a public awareness campaign. It isn’t so difficult to imagine a victim of rape who had been drunk, who had been partying, who had been wearing a short sequined dress seeing the poster and questioning her own responsibility.  Self-blame, shame, fearing that she will not be believed and questioning whether what happened was rape are  all reasons that contribute to an estimated 79-85% of rapes not being reported. If rapes are not reported, who benefits? Rapists whose behaviour goes unpunished and who are free to rape again.  That’s why I said the only ones who are helped by the Calderdale posters are rapists.  They’re provided with victim blaming excuses and are less likely to be held to account when victim/survivors are deterred from reporting

Calderdale’s poster will not reduce sexual violence, neither will it assist victims.  If Calderdale Council want to reduce sexual violence, then they need to focus on men and boys.  The West Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioners’ September 2013 Quarterly Performance Report details that reports of sexual offences increased by 51.1% in the 12 months to June 2013. The report identifies that this is the largest increase across all police forces and compares to a national average increase of 8.9%.  . Men, boys, women, girls, policy makers, support providers need to understand the concepts of consent and coercion.  Consent alone is not enough, but must always be understood in the context of coercion at both the individual and societal level.   Clearly there is much to be done.

If Calderdale Council want to better support victims of sexual violence, then they might want to consider funding local specialist women’s support services.  It is interesting that on the council’s web-page for information and support on rape, sexual assault and sexual abuse the services listed are in Manchester, Huddersfield and Wakefield – none of which are in Calderdale. Does the council  provide or fund any specialist services for victims of sexual violence?  Calderdale Council may also like to consider whether future campaigns support victims and ensure that they challenge not reinforce self-blame, shame and victim blaming.  At the same time as Calderdale Council ran their victim-blaming campaign, the police force responsible for Calderdale, West Yorkshire Police, were running an appeal to increase reporting of sexual violence.  I’d happily raise my glass to the Assistant Chief Constable Ingrid Lee, who, taking quite a different approach to that of the council , is quoted as saying :

 “Sadly society at times has negative perceptions about sexual offending and these perceptions allow sexual crime to go unreported and offenders to go unpunished, we need to change those perceptions by providing people with information that enables them to understand better the nature of the problem and what it is that constitutes rape or other sexual violence.

“And that is why my commitment is to the victims of this dreadful crime that, if they come forward and tell us what has happened, we will not only do all we can to bring the offender to justice but also with our partners provide support and counsel to help them through what is a very difficult and distressing time.

Men’s violence against women and girls is a cause and consequence of inequality between women and men. Restricting women’s movement and choices and putting responsibility for men’s violence against women and girls on to women and girls will never reduce men’s violence.

23 thoughts on “Is it so shocking to believe that women should be able to get blind drunk without being raped?

  1. Pingback: Why do only 28% of women report serious sexual offences? [video] (feimineach)

  2. Dear Karen,

    Thank you for your article. I’d like to ask for your views on my experience.

    When I was in my first year of university, I was still very shy and would never feel able to respond to sexual advances, let alone initiate them. I’d never had any kind of sexual partner before and I had no idea how to talk to women except as friends or family. This shyness was somewhat mitigated by the effects of alcohol: I would be confident enough to respond though still not initiate. On several occasions, I was very drunk at a club when I was approached by confident and lovely women who ended up taking me home.

    Every stage of these encounters was initiated by the ladies in question and they indicated approval of my inexperienced but persistent attempts to make sure that they enjoyed themselves. I know that, even in my intoxication, I would have stopped (or, more likely, fled) as soon as they indicated any sort of unwillingness. Of course, I’m glad that they didn’t and I hope that they didn’t regret taking me home.

    However, in each case, both parties were drunk and probably neither of us would have had sex if we were sober. What does that make me?

  3. I am a woman, I am also 50 years old with short white hair and weigh 16 stone. The reason I mention these things is that they are what make it no issue at all if I get drunk in a public place! 20 years ago I could have been one of ‘those’ women, but now I am out of the sphere, by my age, weight, and hair length! So what these campaigns do is shame and police YOUNG women, usually those who are of ‘typically feminine’ appearance, and apparently attractive to men. The reality is that if you are in the not attractive to men group – like myself – then you have much less to worry about.

    The point of my waffle (and there is one) is that this about how men assess women, not about women’s drinking habits. As a younger, thinner, longer haired woman I was assessed very differently to how I am now (and I prefer now, thanks for asking!), and yes, getting very drunk in a public place could easily have put me at risk because I was in the target group. My liberties were curtailed by the actions of men. As other comments have pointed out men are also at risk – from the actions of other men.

  4. Pingback: Why do only 28% of women report serious sexual offences? [video] | feimineach

  5. Because the council are responsible for reducing drinking and the police are responsible for domestic violence. Both are also looking at paying for drunk tanks for women to sober up in safety – at expense to the taxpayer. Binge drinking is a social and health issue which needs addressing. You’ve made it about rape – which is also a legitimate issue but needs to be addressed separately. The fact the woman is wearing a short skirt is immaterial – it is representative of what young women wear on a night out.

    One male poster addressed drug driving (which is men putting themselves at risk) and the other talked about A&E admissions (which could be down to a whole range of accidents, fights etc.)

    I’m sure you’ll concede that being sober might make you less likely to be targeted by a mugger?

    being sober will also make you less likely to be targeted by a rapist. It is simple fact. I’m sure you’ve seen the recent stats from US suggesting that 80% of on campus rapes involve alcohol. I suspect it’s not that high, but would be interested to know with your experience if that feels correct-ish.

    Now, there has to be a logical distinction between “blame” and “exposing to risk” and I think this is where a lot of the discussion is getting muddled. If I go to a country known to be unsafe for foreigners (e.g. Syria) and get my leg blown off because of a terrorist bomb, the terrorist, and only the terrorist, is clearly to blame. But I have clearly put myself at “more risk” by choosing to go to Syria. It’s the same with drinking. Whether the courts should recognise this is another matter. Personally I think rape is such a heinous crime that they shouldn’t take drunkness into account (and you’ll be aware of Barbara Hewson calling for it to be, I think she’s wrong) but as a general policy issue – I think it’s wise to explain to women that there is a correlation between getting drunk and putting yourself at risk of being criminally raped. It’s not their fault, but it does happen.

    • I think it would be better to spend the time explaining to boys and men that discriminatatory violent behaviour on a particular group of people because you want something off them is violent bigotry not biology as they keep trying to pass it off as. The fact that hugely sexist male media like porn, which populises hate attitudes and hate speech about women and children is so prevalent within male culture now says alot about boys and men and their attitudes towards women and children as humans. 1 in 3 girls in UK schools is subject to sexist attack and 2 in 3 girls has suffered sexist abuse according to NSPCC and separately the Girl Guides Associations recent poll of its members and yet none of this violence is reflected in any literature by the Dept of Education, Ofsted or the Teachers Association. Alongside the police’s total failure to police sexist violence such as rape, sexual assault and domestic violence alongside the government’s protection of violently gendered hate speech in porn as ‘freedom of speech’ shows what a mountain to climb we have to get women and children recognised and protected as equal humans to men.

  6. Hi Alistair,
    I agree that education of children re relationships and sexual stereotypes needs to be drastically overhauled.
    I’m at a loss as to why you think I cannot hold the view that the posters produced by the council are unacceptable but at the same time applaud the efforts of the local police force. They are not the same entity and their approaches are different.
    I didn’t mention the posters aimed at men as – unlike the poster aimed at women – they placed the man who was intoxicated by drink/drugs as the agent – someone who had or caused an accident because of their intoxication; rather than making them the victim of someone else’s abuse. Hence my concern re ‘victim blaming’.
    Please also note, I have worked for 23 years providing services to women victims of men’s violence and continue to do so. This experience informs my opinions. Whether we’re taking about representations of women in anti-drinking posters or on bank-notes, those representations help create a society that is conducive or not-conducive to equality between women and men and hence men’s violence against women.

  7. To be honest, I feel if we increase our level of risk in some activities, we are responsible for making it more likely that an event occurs.

    That said, a woman wearing high heels and a mini skirt isn’t asking to be assaulted by a rabid dog

    No matter what a woman’s wearing, she isn’t asking to be assaulted by a rabid dog

    So if we understand that and agree with that about a rabid dog, why would anyone ever say a woman is doing anything to contribute to or ask to be raped or sexually assaulted ?

    It’s pretty damn obvious she doesn’t want to be raped or sexually assaulted by anything or anyone either.

    The fact that anyone- man woman child- believes that person is trying to do something or contribute to be sexually assaulted scares the shit out of me.

    And it just makes me mad that anyone is still trying to figure out a way to assign guilt to a woman who has been assaulted.

    As for the above re whatever the hell he was trying to say about Australia: Fuckin’ Mansplainin’ is about you can say, I guess…

  8. I appreciate your point on lack of investment into rape prevention and that blame culture exists. Men, sadly, need to be re-educated on respect for women and the principle of consent. However, this needs to happen in the classroom, at a young age – it is not possible to do this via advertising.

    I don’t believe VAWG, consent and what to do if you feel you are being abused forms any part of a sex education curriculum – and while 2013 saw cosmetic victories for feminism (e.g. bank notes), the misallocation of activist resources is ongoing and negligent to the feminist cause.

    With this post, and your comments to the Yorkshire Post, I think you’ve hijacked a perfectly legitimate campaign against binge-drinking for your own political purposes. What you don’t mention in this post is that the campaign also featured posters with men on them. You also jump to the conclusion that it is addressing rape as well as binge drinking. As an ex-ad man – it is very difficult to get an advert to give ONE message, let alone TWO. This campaign was about binge drinking, not rape, so give the council a break.

    Binge drinking is a huge problem in this country – a cultural embarrassment, a health disaster and an expensive problem to maintain. I strongly disagree with any statement that endorses people getting “blind drunk,” and if you can’t see the problem with that – you clearly haven’t seen the deadly impact that alcohol can have on peoples lives, on their families and on communities. To expect a council to not address this issue is naive.

    It is also breathtaking that you can shout from the rooftops about this and yet in the same post acknowledge that the police force (who are DIRECTLY responsible for addressing rapes) were taking excellent steps to encourage women to come forward. Less of the stick, more of the carrot.

    I heartily concur with Hecuba’s post (the first half, not the frankly ridiculous conspiracy theory about male created lies). While I certainly enjoy a drink, I’ve learned from bitter experience that getting paralytically drunk in a town or city centre is not a recipe for health, wealth or happiness.

    And if you want to talk about restricting freedom of movement – try taking a stroll through a French, Italian or Spanish (not one infested with British expats) town late at night, and you’ll find elderly couples a plenty, the sober and strings of happy children strolling through.

    Go out in Doncaster, Bristol or Manchester and you’ll find drunk tanks, screaming women and fighting men – a complete no-go area for anyone that isn’t on the lash. Binge drinking needs to be addressed and nobody should be criticizing this campaign. Not everything is about sex, not everything is about rape. Short skirts are what women wear on a night out, and it’s absolutely their right to. The advert was simply describing what a typical drunk British girl looks like.

    No doubt, on account of my penis, you’ll denounce this comment as some sort of faux-feminism, chauvinistic claptrap. The truth is I find it extraordinarily depressing that women are subject to beatings and sexual violence – and want to fix it. The trouble with raising your voice on issues like this is that you get press coverage for non-issues (and I’m sorry, but this ad campaign really is a non-issue that you’ve trumped up), and don’t focus on the chunky and effective elements of policy making that would ACTUALLY MAKE A DIFFERENCE. The feminist tenner campaign is another example – low hanging fruit that makes activists feel good about themselves but
    doesn’t make a blind bit of difference to the poor women who are assaulted every night. It’s robust constructive criticism, so forgive my tone and focus on content.

  9. Hi, I found your post on WordPress. I have a couple of questions. First, why do people serve and drink alcohol, often quite a lot of alcohol, in public places? They don’t call it a social lubricant for nothing. Second, why would any woman get blind drunk, while wearing a short dress etc., at a public place? What exactly is her motivation? What is all this heavy drinking about really? (I could ask the same thing about men, too. In my own country, Australia, the recent problem has been drunk men ‘king-hitting’ other men and knocking them unconscious, occasionally killing them).

    Men and women have to get along with each other well, but also have to deal with the sex impulse. There is a big difference between tea at four pm when the most arousing thing might be a whiff of perfume, and a nightclub at midnight when everyone’s smashed and the girls are all showing lots of skin. I absolutely concur with you, men and women should abstain from sex (and related temptations, eg porn, dressing too sexually, drinking too much etc.) till marriage. It’s the best way, both socially, physically, spiritualy. However real life doesn’t work that way. Reality is that men like sex. Women like it too. Both are drawn to it. Both like to drink. Some men get aggressive when drunk, all have their inhibitions lowered. Women’s inhibitions are lowered when drunk, too. There are some bad guys out there, and they will do the wrong thing, especially if they have been drinking too much, so it’s really up to the individual to be on guard. That poster seems to simply be acknowledging that. That council is just trying to protect young women in its own way. Don’t be too hard on them.

    Re the last reply. Men may get a bit more freedom of movement but that does not mean we don’t get robbed, murdered etc. And women do dress up to be alluring to men, i.e. to incite them. To say they don’t is wrong. Why else would women choose to wear high heels, mini skirts etc when going out on Friday night, and not say, dungarees?

      • You are being disingenuous. I did not say that. Obviously the answer to that question is that they want to make themselves more attractive to the opposite sex, because they want to have sex. That’s a biological function, a natural impulse. Of course you know that! This sex drive varies among women, for some it’s lower, for some it’s higher.

    • Why not do a little more 101 reading if you have so many questions? You’ll find simple answers to most of them, and you’ll find some really interesting studies that will give you a far greater knowledge than that which you currently possess.

      Then, the next time you come to someone’s blog, you won’t have to waste anyone’s time asking the same stupid questions that everyone else (who either can’t be bothered to educate themselves, or simply just want to antgonise either rape survivors or teh ebul feminazis or both) has already asked a million times? Seriously, how about do your own homework and then bring a well-formed opinion to the table, instead of the few little question-turds you managed to squeeze out?

      Way to make it all about your own ignorance. How arrogant.

      • This sex drive varies among women, for some it’s lower, for some it’s higher.

        Thanks for that, Dr Douchebag, but I don’t see what relevance that has to men raping women?

      • The questions were all rhetorical, of course. I claimed to be a feminist many years ago, and read widely on it, but gave it up as a pretty nasty, pseudo-philosophy that has a huge amount of anger and hate in it. I’m seeing a bit of that in your answer. It seems like the bile bypassed your gallbladder and came straight out of your heart. I think the only people attracted to that kind of anger are other women who have a grievance, who are hurt. I’d say the only people who liked it were people who already agree with all your ideas. Why would any man want to follow you after reading such a reply? Why would I? Why such bitterness and defensiveness, if your cause is so just? Shouldn’t you be evangelizing to me?

        Believe it; no matter how ‘well-informed’ an opinion I would bring to the table, the immediate reaction of a feminist to anything that is anti-feminist, or even has a whiff of anti-feminism, is to presume that it was written in the spirit of misogyny and therefore worth ignoring, mockery, etc. Because uttering anti-feminism is not to have a creative, individual mind, but to have the ‘wrong mind’, not the right ‘feminist mindset.’ This modus operandi is usual for feminists. I think it was pretty usual for the Soviets, too. Denying natural human creativity (which you did by attempting to cast all I wrote as, in your words, question-turds) It’s not natural, it’s what fascists do.

        I formed my present ideas through a lot of reading, living, getting older, and from, as I said, claiming to be a feminist for about 10-15 years. I say ‘claiming’ because I don’t think men can really be feminists.

      • Why would any man want to follow you after reading such a reply?
        Because not liking me should have no bearing whatsoever on whether they believe women are equal beings and have the same right to public space (particularly without some douchebag questioning why they are wearing short skirts) as men to. This question tells me that either you were never a feminist at all and are a liar, or… no wait. This just tells me that you were never a feminist at all.

        You can clutch your pearls over my tone all you like, dude. I’ve seen far too man of your kind to pay any heed (nice ‘fascist’ card by the way – a little earlier than most troglodytes trot it out, but interestingly contrived and used as part of a strawman. I don’t think your comment was based in misogyny, I think it was based in pure stupidity and arrogance. There’s a difference). I don’t care if you don’t like feminism. I really don’t. What I take issue with is your grossly misinformed and kind of embarrassing assertion that women ‘incite’ men by wearing short skirts. Sorry, but I don’t believe most men are rapists waiting to be incited, and I don’t believe women can ‘incite’ men to rape. Hit on them, sure. Rape them? Nah. You should have a little more faith in your own gender.

        If you’d read a lot, you wouldn’t be asking the stupid ‘rhetorical’ (really??) questions you did. Why not go JAQ off somewhere else? It’s so transparent 🙂

      • You are very arrogant to assume you understand the psychological motivations of all women. They may want to sexually attract a man, (although if any woman wanted sex, she could find it if she was prepared to drop her standards low enough, regardless of appearance) but the overwhelming reason for females dressing ‘sexily’ is that they have been socially conditioned into it, by a pornified media. There is no alternative media representation of women than ‘sexy.’ Look at what 12-14 year old girls are wearing today, (belly tops, short skirts etc) the majority of which will not be sexually active yet. I am celibate and don’t date for personal reasons, but when I go on a night out I wear ‘sexy’ clothes because I enjoy men staring at me and giving me attention.

    • WOW I just looked at your blog. You are homophobic, and think women should be submissive to men in marriage. So yeah, you were never a feminist, and you are a crappy person.

      • Does being anti-feminist = being a crappy person? What about all those centuries before feminism existed? Did goodness never exist until, say, Mary Woolstonecraft?

        Respond to my post on submission in marriage, if you would like. Would you prefer men to be submissive to women? Or would you prefer that no decisions ever be made in a marriage, in case doing so would make either the husband or the wife ‘seem’ to be submissive by acquiescing to the other’s decision?

        (Speaking of submission, have you noticed that the only way I would have not been mocked, excluded etc. on this blog would have been by ‘submitting’ to the views of the OP? Well, that’s feminism. ‘Don’t think freely, capitulate unconditionally to the feminist mindset, and then one will not be regarded as an enemy.’)

        Feminism is a poor ideology, and I wish I had never had anything to do with it. You, deezers, can drop it today, and see the anger leave your life and normalcy return. The only ‘negative’ thing that will occur is that your virago friends will shun you and call you a traitor, and mock the things you say, in the manner seen above. But you don’t need them. They are using a resentment-based pseudo-philosophy to interpret their world, and it is not working for them. It’s only warping their view. Think: Are the above words (in the ‘question-turds’ response above) the words or a sane, sensible, magnanimous person, or a fanatic?

      • No, not at all. Stop constructing arguments that don’t exist. Being a liar makes you a crappy person, and that’s what you are. You were not a feminist for 10-15 years, with your viewpoints it is not possible, therefore you are a liar, and a crappy person. Simple!

        You keep mistaking my scorn toward you for anger in general, Justin. Which is a bit of a silly thing to do. I’m a really happy person with a great life… it’s just that I hold your opinions, and you , personally, in utter contempt.

        Would I prefer men be submissive to women? No! How very odd that you think in such a way. It’s like it hasn’t occurred to you that people can be equal and compromise. I notice you didn’t respond to my other comment. Don’t worry, I did think you could.

    • Gosh, guess every victim of burglary is inviting crime by having doors and windows in their house. Why would jewellers put goods in their window if they don’t want to be robbed? Why would people use mobile phones in the street if they don’t want to be mugged. Can you begin to see Justin, the levels of your bigotry and victim blaming. Kids of 6 get raped too, very often whilst under the impression right up til the rape that the man who is coaxing them into a private space is trustworthy. Women go out and get drunk because we are told that men, by and large, are trustworthy whatever we wear. Since I do not see hundreds of men frenziedly dry humping page three of the Sun every morning because they are driven into a state of total uncontrolled frenzy by the sight of naked female flesh, then I think the men that do rape and site female flesh as the problem are … lying. We do not have that problem on the beach, we do not have the problem in swimming pools, you are just trying to manipulate the responsibility for the crime off the criminal males shoulders and onto the female victim’s. Its the same approach that shielded Jimmy Saville and countless other sex offenders and it really won’t do any more, because it is a lie and you, by promoting it, are promoting gender based violence in print.

  10. Given Calderdale Council is so concerned with telling women they must on no account so much as take a sip of alcohol because this in itself is an invitation for males to subject them to rape, then Calderdale Council should consider a campaign warning males not to venture out alone late at night.

    In fact all councils and police forces should put in place an immediate campaign directed at all males and boys telling them not to venture out into mens’ public spheres late at night. Reason is because of these two recent incidents of male on male violence.

    Males are not invulnerable and whenever a male makes the choice to go out late at night or to make his way alone to his home ‘after a night out which presumably includes consuming alcohol’ he not the male perpetrator is responsible for ‘allowing the male predator to subject him to male violence.

    Imagine if males were to be targeted and told ‘you must not go out after dark because if you do so and you are subjected to male violence then it is your fault not the male perpetrator(s). Why men would become hysterical because any curtailment of mens’ freedom of movement is a violation of mens’ human rights.

    Women however continue to be subjected to male constraints and male created lies that whenever male violence is inflicted on them, they not the male perpetrators are accountable.

    Male sexual predators target women and girls because women and girls are not males and yet this obvious reason continues to be denied by men and their male supremacist system.

    Strange is it not that the male victim subjected to male sexual violence by other males was not held accountable because he was walking in mens’ public spheres in the early hours of the morning. It isn’t strange actually because men have always accorded themselves right of freedom of movement whereas women have always been blamed by men for supposedly causing other males to sexually prey on them.

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