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How Is Advising Women on Rape Avoidance Wrong?

Back when I was in college (when dinosaurs roamed the planet) my friends and I were getting ready to head out for a frat party. One of them was wearing a pretty tight sweater and she was – how can I put this delicately? Very “well endowed.” I suggested to her that MAYBE she should change her top. She got very offended and informed me that her sweater was just fine and that I should mind my own business.

She spent the whole night being harassed by drunken frat guys. One actually screamed at her as we walked past him “OMG! YOU HAVE SUCH HUGE…..” Well, you get the idea.

I felt really bad at being right and avoiding saying “I told you so.” Because my friend was also right: she should be free to wear whatever she wants. But frat guys can be jerks, especially when you add alcohol. And I was just trying to help her avoid being hurt. That didn’t make the incident her fault. I don’t blame HER, I blame the drunken jackass for insulting her.

Apparently, that makes me unfit to serve on the federal bench now.

The Senate judiciary committee is currently holding hearings on Trump’s nominee to replace Brett Kavanaugh on the DC Circuit Court of Appeals. Neomi Rao is a graduate of Yale University and Chicago Law School. She clerked for Justice Thomas in 2017. Oh, and obviously she’s a woman, so that’s good. But the Senators questioning her seem to be hung up on some editorials she wrote back in college suggesting that maybe getting drunk at frat parties isn’t a smart thing for women to do.

It’s times like this that I’m glad I avoided writing for my college paper.

In 1994, Rao wrote in the Yale Herald that while a drunk man who raped women should be prosecuted, “a good way to avoid a potential date rape is to stay reasonably sober.”

“And if she drinks to the point where she can no longer choose, well, getting to that point was part of her choice,” Rao wrote. “Implying that a drunk woman has no control of her actions, but that a drunk man does strips women of all moral responsibility.”

Since when did this become controversial? Advising women against getting drunk because that could make them vulnerable to sexual assault USED TO BE common sense advise. Now it’s called “blaming the victim.”

During her Senate confirmation hearing, both Senators Jodi Ernst and Kamala Harris questioned Rao about her opinions.

Harris: You said in a conversation with Senator Ernst, ‘Women should take certain steps to avoid becoming a victim.’ What steps do you have in mind … ? 

Rao: Senator it’s just sort of a common sense idea about excessive drinking, that’s advice that was given to me by my mother … 

Harris: So that’s one step you think women can take to avoid becoming a victim of sexual assault? 

Rao: It is just a way to make it less likely. It’s not to blame the victim. Rape and sexual assault are horrible crimes but we’re talking about what you can do … 

Harris: Are there others … ? 

Rao: That is one of the issues I discussed … 

Harris: Do you believe if a woman does not take those steps that she is at fault? 

Rao: Uh, no. 

Harris: So what is the significance of taking those steps? 

Rao: It’s the significance of trying to avoid being the victim of any crime 

Yes, exactly. We warn women (and men) to take steps to avoid becoming victims of crime. (Incidentally, Rao failed to point out that men have filed sexual assault charges against women under Title IX in cases where both parties were inebriated, so it’s good advice for EVERYBODY.)

Of course, sexual assault victims DO face questioning and blame that victims of other crimes do not. If your car was stolen, police don’t fail to prosecute if you left the doors unlocked or the keys in the ignition. But we do warn people not to do that if they don’t want their cars stolen.

I’ve watched many reports on our local news on “how to avoid being the victim of a crime.” Home security systems are all the rage. Experts say that the proliferation of security cameras has lead to a decrease in burglary. So, if I don’t install one is it my fault when someone breaks into my home and steals my TV? I keep seeing ads for those “Ring Doorbells” that let you view anyone at your door. They’re supposed to be a big deterrent for “porch pirates,” those guys who steal your packages right off your doorstep. But I live on a quiet cul de sac and haven’t had a problem with theft. So, if I call Amazon to report a stolen shipment, are they going to tell me “Tough luck. You should have had better security?”

No, of course not.

Sexual assault shouldn’t be any different. Avoiding drinking to excess is good advice. Don’t drink anything handed to you by a stranger. Stick with your friends at parties. Keep an eye out for each other. But if you fail to do any of these things and find yourself the victim of a sexual assault, IT’S STILL NOT YOUR FAULT. Call the police. Find the responsible assailant and have him prosecuted.

That’s just good advice. It shouldn’t be interpreted as blame.

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