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03:47 pm: Emily Yoffe on Alcohol & Possible Rape
Why do I keep reading Emily Yoffe's "Dear Prudence" column?

There was a recent column that I thought was off the mark.

Jezebel has picked up this story, and there is a tumblr about it as well. I was actually expecting more of a shitstorm about this on feminist blogs.

Q. Friend Has Revised One-Night Stand Story: A friend recently called me and said she had a one-night stand after drinking too much. She was beating herself up over drinking too much and going home with a guy she met at a bar. I reassured her that everyone makes mistakes and didn't think much more of the account. However, since then, she has told many people that she was a victim of date-rape—that the guy must have put something into her drink . She spoke to a rape crisis line, and they said even if she was drunk, she couldn't have given consent so she was a victim of rape. She now wants to press charges—she has the guy's business card. I have seen her very intoxicated on previous occasions, to the point she doesn't remember anything the next day. I'm not sure on what my response should be at this point. Pretend she never told me the original story?

A: Trying to ruin someone else's life is a poor way to address one's alcohol and self-control problems. Since her first version of the story is that she was ashamed of her behavior, and since you have seen her knee-walking drunk on other occasions, it sounds as if she wants to punish the guy at the bar for her own poor choices. Yes, I agree that men should not have sex with drunk women they don't know. But I think cases like the one you are describing here—in the absence of any evidence she was drugged—where someone voluntarily goes home with a stranger in order to have a sexual encounter, makes it that much harder for women who are assaulted to bring charges. Talk to your friend. Tell her that she needs to think very long and hard about filing a criminal complaint against this guy if there's any way her behavior could be construed to be consensual. Say you understand her shame, but you're concerned about her drinking, and if she addresses that, she won't find herself in such painful situations.

There's not really much evidence here one way or the other about whether the woman was drugged. I remember reading something about how date rape drugs are overhyped and it's not uncommon for women to misinterpret the effects of alcohol as being drugged (presumably men would be less vulnerable to this because they aren't worried about being drugged); I don't remember how they determined this, though, so I'm not sure how strong the evidence for this is. On the other hand, the fact that the friend seems to be experienced with being very drunk seems like evidence that she'd be likely to know when there's something besides alcohol affecting her.

Neither the fact that she at first blamed herself for drinking too much nor the fact that the guy gave her his business card seem like strong evidence that it wasn't rape to me. These actions both seem irrational, but humans beings aren't very rational a lot of times, and one thing I've learned from reading people's personal accounts in comments and stuff to stories like this is that both of these attitudes are fairly common. Rape victims can have denial as an initial reaction, and rapists can also be in denial that they've actually done/are doing anything bad.

[Also learned from feminism-type stuff: rapists often target women who are drunk. This post on Feministe links to a study and discussion about this, where men are surveyed about this. You may wonder, "who admits to being a rapist?" The men admit to doing things that are rape, but don't believe/admit that those things are actually rape. Sort of like obviously-racist "I'm not a racist, but..." statements.]

I am not arguing that "clearly she was raped". It is very unclear whether or not she was raped, but Emily Yoffe writes as though it is clear that it was not rape. Taking the letter writers at their word is NOT necessarily Yoffe's usual response. Some of her responses, she basically psychoanalyzes the letter writer, and her ideas really come out of left field IMO. Why no skepticism this time?

The part that first set off my skepticism-alarm was this: "She spoke to a rape crisis line, and they said even if she was drunk [vs drugged], she couldn't have given consent so she was a victim of rape." This raised the possibility, to me, that she told a more detailed version to the crisis line than what the friend got--she may have been too drunk to say "yes" or "no", for example. And while you shouldn't always take the word of experts, I don't exactly consider the letter-writer a reliable narrator, and I would give more credibility to the person working on the rape-crisis line than the letter-writer. Also, "I have seen her very intoxicated on previous occasions, to the point she doesn't remember anything the next day," seems more like evidence that makes it more likely and not less likely that she was raped, since it sounds like she binge-drinks enough that it would be plausible that she'd be passed-out drunk. The fact that she DOES consider this evidence that her friend wasn't raped only makes her opinion seem less trustworthy to me.

The subtext of one of the responses she chose to publish (and Yoffe's response, to some extent) also bothered me:

"The woman should ask herself if she really was raped or she really just drank too much, and unless she's 100% sure that she was raped, she should learn a lesson from this, not make her fellow one-night-stander into a victim."

The "learn a lesson from this" just seems a little too close to "you deserve to be assaulted if you drink too much". I don't know, though, I guess if they really believe that it was consensual, they're saying "you deserve to have sex that you don't remember well and later regret". This still seems icky to me, though. ...And actually, they don't say, "if she wasn't raped", they say, "if she wasn't 100% sure she was raped." "If she's only 90% sure she was raped, she should learn a lesson from this." Yeah, definitely sounds icky.

Disclaimer: I have never been drunk, and have never been raped, so I'm not expert on either subject. You might think that this would make me more judgmental about people who drink too much, but I don't know, I guess sometimes when every drunk person is kind of annoying to you the distinctions between different drinkers don't seem as strong.

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