The alternative isn’t quite clear

Anna Merlan at Jezebel doesn’t like Christina Hoff Sommers and “The Factual Feminist” any more than I do.

A conservative think tank has embarked upon a quest to convince us all that women worry way too much about getting drugged and raped. This is an interesting hill to die on.

According to a new video from Caroline Kitchens at the American Enterprise Institute, we foolishly live in “constant fear” of being roofied by strangers in bars, when in fact women should just… the alternative here isn’t quite clear. Not watch our drinks at bar? Assume that nobody’s going to mess with our beverage, so maybe wander off for a little bit and do some other things?

Oh, go ahead and watch your drinks at the bar, but shut up about it. That’s what women should just. To talk about it is to be a “professional victim” and let down the side, while to shut up about it is to be a strong take-charge woman who punches her way through all the obstacles while never talking about them.

But how does that make her strong, you may ask? And how does it not make her self-centered and indifferent to the broader good? And why should women have to punch their way through obstacles that don’t need to be there in the first place?

Ask the libertarians, because I don’t know.

This inspiring message, which resonates with precisely nobody, is the latest in a series called The Factual Feminist, a weekly dose of bummer usually hosted by Christina Hoff Sommers, a resident scholar at the think tank. (Sommers is one of a small army of Gamergate defenders who have decided to back the Gamergaters in a fight with some writers over at our brother site Gawker. The Gamergaters call Sommers “mom,” a Freudian field day we’ll have to leave for another time.)

I wish she hadn’t put it off. I too think that’s gross, though not primarily for reasons to do with Freud. I hate the whole half-jokey custom of nicknaming people granny or uncle or Mom merely because they’re older than the people doing the nicknaming. It’s stupid and usually condescending. Imagine the fanboiz calling Dawkins “Grandpa” and I think you’ll see what I mean.

Mardan transcribes some of what Kitchens said:

“A reality check is in order,” Kitchens intones. “Our fear of being drugged and sexually assaulted by a predatory stranger in a bar is not grounded in reality.” She suggests that the whole “process” of being drugged and raped sounds just ridiculous to her: “Just think about it: it requires a stranger to find the drugs, slip them into a woman’s drink undetected, manage to take the victim away from her friends without anyone noticing and then reliably erase her memory of the experience.”

Oh they don’t need to bother with the last part; the rapist can rely on everyone to ignore her if she reports it. But the first three? Yes, and? Those are all too difficult to be real? No.

Kitchens veers solidly into awfulness when she suggests that the real problem is Dumb Bitches Getting Too Drunk. Or, as she puts it, “Most commonly, victims of drug-facilitated sexual assault are severely intoxicated, often of their own volition.”

To start, the presence of alcohol and other drugs in rape cases is trickier than Kitchens makes it out to be. She doesn’t mention this very large 2007 study by the U.S. Department of Justice, which estimated that nearly three million women in the U.S. have been victims of drug-facilitated rape at some point in their lifetime. As with the study that Kitchens looked at, Rohypnol (roofies) were very, very uncommon: the DOJ researchers estimate they’re only used in about two percent of drug-faciliated rape. In the vast majority of cases, they found, alcohol was the primary drug. (When a second drug was present, it was usually marijuana.) But there are also over 100 other benzodiazepines, and it’s not at all clear that they’re all tested for in incidents of suspected drug-facilitated rape.

In the cases where alcohol alone is suspected, how did said alcohol get consumed by the victim? Again, here, Kitchens isn’t entirely wrong: in a lot of cases, yes, the assaulted people drank alcohol voluntarily; in some, they were plied with alcohol by their assailants, given drinks that were stronger than they realized, or a host of other scenarios. The end result is the same: a person was raped or sexually assaulted after they became too impaired to consent to sex or fight off their attackers. Rape doesn’t become less of a crime if the victim is voluntarily drunk.

You’d think that would be obvious, wouldn’t you.

But Kitchens’ conclusion isn’t even that it’s not a bad idea to watch your drink; she allows that’s still probably a reasonable thing to do. But, the implication here is simple, and it’s nasty: if you think you got roofied, you probably didn’t. So why bother mentioning that suspicion to the police, right? Why even report your rape at all? It’s probably somehow, at some level, your fault. It’s the same vicious old argument, in other words — don’t get too drunk, girls, if you don’t want to wind up raped! — buried under a new, laughably thin layer of purported “feminism.”

“Feminists should be concerned that women are modifying their behavior on their girls night’s out in order to protect themselves from some vague improbable threat,” Kitchens tells us, somewhere near the end of this exhausting slog. But what she doesn’t acknowledge — or even seem aware of — is that women feel forced to modify their behavior in ways large and small to stay safe all the time. It sucks, and we hate it, but we still do it. Watching your drink at a bar is what we might call harm reduction, a strategy to mitigate, in some small way, the effects of living in a toxic culture where rape is pervasive. Awareness of date rape drugs is one of the things in the shitty, depressing bag of tools we’ve all developed to try to stay safe. It’s not “constant fear,” as Kitchens suggests. It’s just reasonable caution and concern.

And when that bag of tools fails and someone is raped or sexually assaulted, whose fault is it? Oh, right: the person committing the rape. Always. Every single time. Whether the victim was drunk, high, stone-sober or any combination thereof. And the more we argue over Rohypnol or idiotic roofie-detecting nail polish or just how often someone might be spiking our drinks, the more we veer further and further away from the real issue: the people who think it’s fine and acceptable to commit rape, very often against someone they know, someone who trusts them. Any other discussion at this point it starting to feel deliberately evasive, a way to avoid shining the light where it truly belongs.

Because that’s exactly what it is.


  1. Blanche Quizno says

    Some of these sources you have probably linked to before; they merit a repeat (and if not, a first-time mention) – here is a source that provides a quickie summary + links to the two main studies (one of college males, another of male military personnel):

    The researchers found that for the college students, over 2 time frames, almost 1/3 of the men admitting to perpetrating sexual assault once, with an additional 9% admitting perpetrating sexual assault during both time frames. 63% of those who admitted perpetrating sexual assault reported repeated rapes and sexual assaults. Of the military personnel who reported attempted or completed rape, 71% reported more than one incident. 95% of the reported attempted or completed rape incidents were committed by repeat offenders.

    Respondents reported using substances (83%) more frequently than force (27%) and knowing their victim (92%) more often than targeting strangers (26%). All the men who reported using force and targeting a stranger (4%) also reported using substances and targeting an acquaintance. Of the men who used only force against their victims, none reported raping a stranger; all the men knew their victims.

    Table 3 also shows that most respondents reported using only one method (90%) and targeting only one type of victim (82%). These numbers suggest that most respondents specialized in the methods they used and the victims they targeted. In fact, only 4% of the sample generalized in both methods and victims.

    Notice that women/anyone will feel more trusting/less on guard when around people they know – yet these are the most dangerous. Who fears their drink will be “roofied” in a familiar place? Yet that’s where it often happens. From :

    The night — what of it I remember — felt absolutely un-sinister. I went out to a bar in Brooklyn with the guy I was dating, whom I’ll call John*. It was John’s local, and nearly everyone there was a friend or a friend of a friend, including the bartender, who was in a benevolent mood and calling everyone “my dear.” I had one-and-a-half gin and tonics, which was my drink then, and everything was normal and comfortable and cozy. The drinks tasted fine, I knew the man who poured them, and I never set them down because I was comfortably settled on a stool opposite an old friend. But when I try to bring the night back, this is where it stops, halfway through the second gin and tonic. I remember that my friend was teasing me and I was laughing, and that the crowd was close around us, many of them tall men, which made it feel like we were in a warm clearing amidst trees. I remember feeling safe, and then I remember nothing.

    Twelve hours after being drugged, I woke up shaking in John’s bed, fully clothed, and on top of the covers. My knowledge of the interim is pieced together mostly from what he told me. Apparently, I’d grown radiantly happy and then quickly, dramatically incapacitated. I’d stopped talking, and then walking. I ran into walls. He took me back to his apartment to put me to bed, but I managed to lock myself in his bathroom for 30 minutes and either wouldn’t or couldn’t respond to his attempts to coax me out. When I finally emerged, he suggested I sit down, and I sat. He told me I should drink water, and I wordlessly accepted the cup. This was what unnerved him the most in the retelling: how pliable I had been. “You would do things, but you weren’t there,” he said.

    The CDC released a study last month estimating that nearly 22 million adult American women (roughly one in five) have experienced rape, and that ​between 9 and 10 million of those cases were alcohol- or drug-facilitated rape. The study estimated the number of male victims of drug-facilitated sexual assault to be around 685,000.

    There is one abstract to a paper submitted to the Annals of Emergency Medicine that suggested drug-facilitated sexual assault is on the rise in New York. The study found that the number of sexual assault victims who had been drugged more than doubled (from 8 percent to 18 percent) between 2002 and 2008 in the New York metro area. The actual rate of increase might be more dramatic: The study couldn’t account for people who went to private practitioners or urgent-care centers rather than hospitals, people who never sought help at all, or people who were drugged but not assaulted.

    “Nobody is really tracking this, so everything you hear will be anecdotal.”

    I started asking around. Within a few weeks of casual inquiry, I’d found more than 20 people who’d also been “roofied.”

    The term “roofied” can refer to being drugged with Rohypnol, but the term is often used for any instance of surreptitious drugging. According to the article above, GHB, or “liquid ecstasy”, is a common drug-of-choice:

    Jennifer M. Granholm, then Michigan’s attorney general: ”[GHB is] an extremely high priority, in that this substance has popped up at these rave parties, and kids can’t detect it in a drink.” The portrait painted here was consistent with everything else I’d heard: The victims were “kids,” almost exclusively young women; the dosing was sexually predatory in motive; and it was possibly avoidable if you skipped “these rave parties.”

    Again, it’s the victims’ responsibility to avoid the predators. If only the predators would wear identifying nametags O_O

    Do you know anyone who’s been roofied? I do. A coworker of my husband’s, from about 5 years ago. She went to Las Vegas with a couple of girlfriends for a girls’ weekend. In a bar, she was “roofied” and taken out of the bar by two men, who gang-raped her. She came home, stayed home from work for a week, then decided to go back to school. Changed everything about her life, in other words. No, she didn’t report it; no, she couldn’t identify them.

    The hangover felt possibly lethal. (GHB, the most likely culprit, actually is lethal in the wrong doses.) I called a doctor friend who specializes in emergency medicine. “I feel like I’m dying,” I told him, seriously. It was an effort to form coherent sentences. “My heart is palpitating and my hand-eye coordination doesn’t work and it feels like if I stop concentrating on breathing I’ll stop breathing. Am I dying? Should I try to get to a hospital?”

    If you had gotten a lethal dose, you would have never woken up,” he told me. “Sounds like it was close, but you woke up. You’ll be okay.” Then he said, “This has already happened to two of my close guy friends.”

    When I told my neighbor, she said, “Oh my God, me too!” Her boyfriend chimed in, “That happened to me, too. And three of my good friends.” They wanted to know where I’d been, so I told them: Williamsburg. “Was it the Woods?” they asked. “Everyone gets roofied there.”

    People DIE from being drugged! WHY is that detail not intensifying the pressure to make it stop??

    What’s the solution? Sit at home and surround ourselves with pillows?? Become survivalists and live alone on some mountainside? Or address this completely unacceptable situation as a society? Caroline Kitchens and Christina Hoff Sommers are not helping – they’re making things worse.

    Remember: 1) It’s legal to drink alcohol. 2) It’s not legal to rape people. There’s a difference, and the fact of the first is not tacit permission for the second.

  2. johnthedrunkard says

    And of course, alcohol all by itself functions as a rape drug. Women’s drinks are spiked. Frat houses mix ‘special’ punchbowls for ‘girls.’ Michael Shermer pours drinks for his ‘guest’ while hiding or ‘spilling’ his own.

    And, as the blogosphere seems determined to ignore, a substantial minority of people CANNOT control their alcohol intake while they are under the influence. We still seem to treat ‘plying’ women with alcohol as something quaint or cute—Doris Day and Rock Hudson crap.

    ‘Drunk dating’ is as serious as drunk driving. It took years for MADD and others to get the law to take the annual slaughter on the roads seriously. We need a similar effort to make the combination of alcohol and sexual violence obvious to the public.

  3. Pierce R. Butler says

    On one niggling detail (bolded below), Kitchens got it close to right:

    “Our fear of being drugged and sexually assaulted by a predatory stranger in a bar is not grounded in reality.”

    I suspect she herself hangs out with a Republican operative/frat boy/Wall St kind of crowd, and urge her to watch her drinks – and her “friends” – most carefully.

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