Monday, December 14, 2015

Lowering the drinking age to 18 would help reduce rape

My last post discussed the difference between causality and culpability in the context of the college rape epidemic. This post will present a more specific argument involving that distinction. In a sentence, I believe that while alcohol prohibition is not to blame for rape, lowering the drinking age would have the effect of reducing rape’s prevalence, which makes it a highly worthwhile and overdue reform which feminists should enthusiastically support.

For years, feminists have noted that rape is significantly more prevalent on college campuses, and rightly focused their efforts on making those colleges safer for female students. Feminists rightly blame a “rape culture” for fostering male entitlement to female bodies, but since that culture exists both on and off college campuses, it still doesn’t explain the disparity between rates of rape on college campuses and rates of rape elsewhere.

There are many potential reasons for this disparity, but one plausible distinction is that college campuses have a lot of 18-21 year olds, who are herded into more dangerous settings than they would be otherwise by laws preventing them from enjoying alcohol under safer conditions. Just as drug prohibition requires drug users to acquire their drugs in discreet and violent underground settings, alcohol prohibition funnels naïve college freshmen into crowded fraternity basements to drink jungle juice with older males of suspect intentions.

Drunkenness does not cause rape, but it does decrease potential victims’ awareness of what’s going on around them and their ability to resist or call for help. Drunk targets are easy targets. Rapists know this. Rapists are attracted to venues where alcohol will be served to minors for the precise reasons alcohol is being served to minors at those venues: there will be a lot of tipsy young women, and they will be deliberately hidden from law enforcement supervision. Imagine John is a rapist, and he’s thinking to himself, “Where can I go to maximize the likelihood that I can rape someone and get away with it?” Wouldn’t John much prefer the secluded enclaves of a mostly-male frat party to public places where policemen or bouncers might be patrolling, like a bar or nightclub?

To be clear, I have no problem with the underage consumption of alcohol, and don’t blame it (or the people who engage in it) for our country’s rape problem. No thoughtful person would say that alcohol causes rape. What I am saying is that alcohol prohibition enables rapists, and that it does this by requiring alcohol consumption to take place in under conditions in which rape is easier to commit and get away with.

To be even more clear, I am NOT blaming victims who drank alcohol in any way, shape or form. The onus should not be on them to have to take preventative measures or alter their behavior. All people should be free to drink however much they want, wherever they want, without the fear of being raped, and the fact that many women lack that freedom is a horrendous injustice. When rape happens, only rapists are to blame for it.

But just because alcohol prohibition is not morally culpable for rape doesn't mean it isn't an indirect facilitator. Like rape culture at fraternities, prohibition enables and empowers rapists by creating conditions under which rape is easier to commit and get away with. Were alcohol legal for 18-21 year olds, and accessible at any bar, nightclub or liquor store, far fewer college students could be lured into secluded party spots to drink immeasurable amounts of alcohol with total strangers. Instead, underclassmen could party on their own terms, with their own friends, either in bars with a bouncer nearby or in private dorms and apartments to which strangers do not have access – just as upperclassmen usually prefer to party today.


Again, lowering the drinking age would not solve the rape crisis, and should not be marketed as a comprehensive solution to our campus rape problem. But if it can reduce those rapes by making them practically more difficult to accomplish, isn’t that a worthwhile interim goal?

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Pragmatic rape reduction proposals are not always victim blaming

A common feminist refrain is that any attempt to bring the actions of a rape victim into the discussion about his or her rape is “victim blaming”, because nobody is to blame for rape except the rapist. That last bit is certainly true, and in most cases, I agree that suggestions that women alter their behavior to avoid being raped are unhelpful and sexist. In the face of massive misogynistic pushback against rape victims for so long, it’s easy to understand why the term has become an instinctual response to shifting the topic away from why men rape.

But in recent years, allegations of victim blaming have expanded to encompass genuinely feminist, good faith attempts to creatively reduce the incidence of rape, in ways that are counterproductive to the feminist message and objectives. There’s an illogical a line of thought in the feminist community positing that because only rapists are to blame for rape, proposals to address rape which involve anything other than culture change (aka, an increased societal willingness to hold rapists personally accountable) are at best merely a distraction, and at worst a veiled form of victim blaming.

For example, the people who created that nail-polish that changes color in the presence of roofies were criticized for placing the onus on the victim, not the perpetrator, to prevent her own rape. And recently, I saw a proposal to decrease the drinking age to 18 criticized by a prominent member of the Hopkins Feminists group in the same vein: since alcohol does not cause rape, addressing its role in campus nightlife was said to divert blame from the culprits themselves, and so deemed “not the right kind of change.”

I wholeheartedly agree that only rapists can be faulted for rape, in the same way only murderers can be faulted for murder and only robbers for robbery. But when we consider how to reduce the rate of murder or theft in a given city, we do not limit the scope of our conversation to moral culpability; we very often look at broader social conditions that may influence those rates indirectly, like poverty or access to weapons. Are policies which attempt to lessen crime by influencing those external variables also “not advocating for the right kind of policy change”? Or does it make sense, in most other contexts, to address violent crime on a pragmatic level as well as a moral one?

Surely many on the feminist left advocate for stronger gun control laws as a means to reduce gun violence. Such proposals are not designed to address whatever root cultural issues prompt some people to go on murderous rampages; rather, they are designed to bring about the desired social outcome indirectly, by denying the people who want to kill the means to execute their plan. In this context, liberal reformers seem to agree that fighting purely cultural battles in an attempt to dissuade evildoers from doing evil is an insufficient response to an epidemic of violence.

Gun control places the onus for change not on the would-be perpetrator, but on the peaceful remainder of society. Yet nobody interprets this as denying that crazed mass shooters retain full moral responsibility for their actions, and nor should they. Why are pragmatic proposals to address college rape any different?


In both cases, indirect causation is not the same as culpability. To use another analogy, the United States is not to “blame” for 9/11. Only the men who plotted to drive planes into buildings full of innocent people can be held morally responsible. But culpable or not, it would be silly to pretend that US foreign policy played no role whatsoever in bringing about those events – bin Laden himself repeatedly said and wrote that our perceived injustices in his region of the world were his primary motivation for the attacks. When we brainstorm ways to minimize terror attacks in the future, it does not suffice to point out that terrorists and rapists are evil people. Forging national security strategy involves figuring out how to prevent terrorists from operating in a far more immediate way than encouraging Middle Eastern culture change, even if that’s also a worthwhile long-term project we should dive into simultaneously.

Rape is little different. Nobody and nothing is to “blame” for rape in a moral sense except rapists. Eliminating ineffective policies that accidentally make rape easier to commit does not implicitly condone rapists or deny they are the ultimate source of the problem. What it does is erect structural barriers that make it tougher for those abhorrent, evil, very bad no good rapists to get away with the crime.