Just Stop, New York Times. There’s No “Room for Debate” When It Comes to Women Being Raped


In case you’re not familiar with the New York Times feature “Room for Debate,” I will enlighten you (even though it’s not the hardest thing to figure out on your own!). Every couple of days the Times rounds up six people, who are usually experts of some sort, and asks them their opinions on whatever the controversial topic of the day is. And, because it’s a debate, it’s usually three against three in whatever the matter at hand is. Past topics include “The Rules of the Road,” a debate about cycling safety measure, “Can Playing Ball Be Bad for Children,” a look at whether competitive sports benefit or harm young kids, and “Are Casinos Too Much of a Gamble,” debating, well, you can imagine. But so, usually these topics are relatively inoffensive and neither side of the debate at hand is all that controversial. Sure, you might have strong opinions about one of these issues, but you’re unlikely to be infuriated by the counter-opinion. Or at least, that’s how I always felt. But that all changed today when the topic was “Young Women, Drinking, and Rape.” You see, apparently the Times thinks there’s room for debate on the topic of whether or not a woman deserves to get raped if she drinks alcohol. What the fuck. No. Stop, New York Times. Just stop.

One of my co-workers saw the headline of this post and commented “Controversial opinion!” Part of the reason he did this is because he’s sarcastic and critical, but mostly it was because he thought that the headline stated an obvious truth, because, of course, there’s no debate over whether or not a woman ever deserves to be raped. Except that, lately, there has been a debate over exactly that! Over at Slate last week, Emily Yoffe wrote an article titled, “College Women: Stop Getting Drunk,” in which she asserted that the real fault in all the high publicity rapes of young women that we’ve been hearing about lies with the young women, because they chose to drink. Of course, Yoffe is forgetting that many of these cases (including the Steubenville, Ohio and Maryville, Missouri rapes) did not happen to college age girls, but to minors. However, they’re to blame anyway because they chose to drink alcohol in the company of men. Sluts!

There was, at least, a huge outcry against Yoffe’s column, as many people are sensible enough to acknowledge that perhaps victim-blaming is not an appropriate thing to do, and that maybe it is the men who should not drink, lest they, you know, commit an atrocious crime. Yoffe, for her part, thinks that men should control their drinking, but not because they might rape someone and horribly impact another person’s life, but because it wouldn’t be in a man’s “self interest” to “be a drunken frat boy who finds himself accused of raping a drunken classmate.” Ugh. Make her stop!

Or, you know, open up this “debate” to a wider audience? Because that’s exactly what the Times did by posing the question of whether or not women bear any responsibility for being the victim of a crime. And, look, it’s one thing for Salon to try and court controversy by publishing an unpopular opinion piece. It’s still irresponsible and disgusting. But it’s Salon! But for the Times to advocate a “debate” on an issue that really shouldn’t need to be debated by thoughtful, intelligent men and women is ridiculous. One of the participants in the Times debate claims that “protecting women is not victim blaming,” but, in fact, when people (no matter how well-intentioned) claim that it is a woman’s responsibility to not get attacked by a man, then, yes, it is victim blaming. First the advice is not to binge drink, then it becomes not to have more than two drinks (as per Yoffe’s suggestion, because even two glasses of wine will harm a woman’s ability to make sound judgments), and then it becomes, what? Not to leave the house? Should we also start telling women what kind of clothes they should wear, so that they become less prone to being attacked?

Lately, there has been a lot of talk about New York City in the 80s and early 90s, when the five boroughs were a much more dangerous place. Muggings and assaults were at an all-time high on the subway. And yet,of course, there was no conversation about people not using public transportation. There was no burden placed on a victim who was (gasp!) out after dark, just because that’s when most crime took place. The reasons why it’s irresponsible and immoral to blame victims are so simple that it feels like the height of pedantry and condescension to have to explain them. And yet, it’s almost always necessary to do so in the case of rape. Why rape? Why women? The focus of this “debate” on rape needs to be on the perpetrators. And, even then, the solution isn’t just to stop drinking. The solution is not to be the kind of cretin who will physically assault another human being. This has nothing to do with the alcohol consumption of either partner and everything to do with living in a society that is quick to blame women and forgive men. But until we evolve enough as a society to get to the point where we protect and support victims instead of blaming them, it would be nice to at least expect that an institution like the New York Times wouldn’t enter into this false “debate.” There is never a valid argument for blaming the victim of a rape. Never.

Follow Kristin Iversen on twitter @kmiversen

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  1. “But, until that change fully takes hold, women remain vulnerable to forms of sexual violence against which the criminal law does not adequately protect them. Since that is so, it is essential – in some spaces, at some times, for some audiences – to make sure that women are told how to protect themselves.”

    Characterizing this as asking “whether or not a woman deserves to get raped if she drinks alcohol” is wildly off base. Almost the entire first half of the column consists of careful qualifications and historical context. I think I’m around the same age as the woman who wrote it, which probably puts me about half a generation older than you. An absolutely necessary correction against making rape victims feel like they somehow brought it on themselves has swung way too far in the other direction with your generation, to the point where it’s now not okay, in any context, to tell people how not to be a crime victim. Actually, that’s not quite right. The only thing that’s not okay is telling women how not to be a victim of one particular crime. I’m sure it’s just a matter of time till that overcorrection balances out, but in the meantime, I think more women are going to get raped than would have otherwise.

    I’m a woman. I’ve been sexually assaulted. I made certain choices that escalated that situation, but acknowledging that doesn’t IN ANY WAY WHATSOEVER absolve the guy who did it (and is now in jail) of guilt, nor does it make me remotely responsible for what happened. However, afterwards I told any friend who would listen what I could have done differently to avoid getting hurt, because I love my friends and wanted to make sure they never repeat my experience. That’s not victim-blaming. Neither is this column.