by Marcella Felde
*Trigger Warning: This content deals with sexual assault.*
For the past couple of weeks I have been reading article after article, trying to understand the prevalence of rape in my community. I have read terrifying personal accounts, blogs on ending “Rape Culture,” police reports, and studies aimed at defining predators. This is what I found:
- The most likely victims of rape are women who are freshmen in college(1 in 4 college women have been raped or experienced an attempted rape (Wolitzky-Taylor et al., 2011))
- Rapes are often committed by a nonstranger (Among college women, 85% of rapes are perpetrated by an acquaintance, date, or partner (Wolitzky-Taylor et al., 2011))
- The majority of rapists are repeat offenders (“On college campuses, repeat predators account for 9 out of every 10 rapes.”)
- “The basic weapon is alcohol” (At least half of sexual assaults “involve alcohol consumption by the perpetrator, victim, or both” (Abbey et al., 2001))
- Incapacitated rape occurs at much higher rates than forcible rape on college campuses (These rates are much higher compared to community samples (Clinton-Sherrod et al., 2011))
- Women raped by strangers are more likely to report the rape(Rape is severely under-reported and is therefore a serious public safety concern)
A short while ago, UMass Amherst Chancellor Subbaswamy announced the alleged rape of a UMass student by four men. The disturbing details of this horrific crime match nearly all of the characteristics of rape listed above. If this is what we know to be true, why was this crime not prevented? In an email to the student body, the Chancellor wrote “we will not tolerate this violent behavior.” These words are simply not sufficient. It is reported that nearly half of the rapes that occur on college and university campuses, involve drugs or alcohol (Abbey et al., 2001). Perhaps if we created a campaign to increase awareness of this factor, we could prevent many rapes.
The Amherst community has opened up a discussion on rape since Angie Epifano’s account of her assault, and the subsequent (in)actions of Amherst College, was published. Ms. Epifano’s account was extraordinary, not only because of her courage and bravery, but because her voice has given a speechless community a space in which to shout with indignation. One comment that followed her account contained advice about “what women can do to avoid getting raped.” This defines rape culture; where rape is to be expected; where it is our own fault if we don’t prepare for rape. So I’d like to rephrase the question: What can communities do to prevent rape? One way is to eliminate the circumstances that empower rapists and disempower the victim. In the case of rape, one of the circumstances we can change are those surrounding alcohol consumption.
There are two health warning statements that appear on the labels of alcoholic beverages in the United States. They read like this: GOVERNMENT WARNING: (1) According to the Surgeon General, women should not drink alcoholic beverages during pregnancy because of the risk of birth defects. (2) Consumption of alcoholic beverages impairs your ability to drive a car or operate machinery, and may cause health problems.
Maybe it’s time to add a third warning: (3) Consumption of alcoholic beverages may increase your vulnerability to rape.
Preventing rape does not begin with taking self-defense classes; it begins with awareness in everyone, of the causes and consequences of rape and being raped. People trying to prevent rape on college campuses should focus on the risks of drinking alcohol. Trey Malone, who took his own life, left us with these words: “There are millions more just like me that need help and no, someone who is drunk cannot give consent, fuckers.”
Photo credits: Amherst College survivors’ blog “It Happens Here.”
Abbey, A., Zawacki, T., Buck, P. O., Clinton, A., & McAuslan, P. (2001). Alcohol and Sexual Assault.
Alcohol Research & Health, 25(1), 43.
Clinton-Sherrod, M., Morgan-Lopez, A. A., Brown, J. M., McMillen, B. A., & Cowells, A. (2011). Incapacitated Sexual Violence Involving Alcohol Among College Women: The Impact of a Brief Drinking Intervention. Violence Against Women, 17(1), 135-154.
Wolitzky-Taylor, K. B., Resnick, H. S., Amstadter, A. B., McCauley, J. L., Ruggiero, K. J., & Kilpatrick, D. G. (2011). Reporting Rape in a National Sample of College Women. Journal Of American College Health, 59(7), 582-587.