Date Rape PSA By PA’s Liquor Control Board Accused Of Victim-Blaming

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Pennsylvania’s Liquor Control Board is under fire for a new PSA campaign called Control Tonight, which critics say puts the onus on women for “not getting raped” while drunk and is blaming the victim. The ad in question depicts a woman’s bare legs on what looks like a tiled bathroom floor with her panties pulled down to her ankles and the text reads:

02:19 a.m  SHE DIDN’T WANT TO DO IT, BUT SHE COULDN’T SAY NO.

When your friends drink, they can end up making bad decisions. Like going home with someone they don’t know very well.

Decisions like that leave them vulnerable to dangers like date rape. Help your friends stay in control and stay safe.

The cell phone company Credo Mobile has organized a campaign to call the PA Liquor Control Board and complain about the PSA. And the feminist blog Feministing.com criticized the ad for shifting the blame from the guy who doesn’t get consent to the drunk girl who goes home with him: 

The campaign blatantly shifts the blame onto victims and friends, and away from the very person who deserves it: the rapist. … [I]nstead of teaching people how to make sure they’re properly getting consent from someone they’re hooking up with, our society perpetuates a mindset that makes women feel guilty for a crime committed against them.

I see that argument and, of course, agree with it as phrased by Feministing. The problem is rapists; the blame should be on rapists and their apologists; our society doesn’t take rape, especially date rape, seriously enough to punish the perpetrators; and the way women experience our sexuality should be shifted from “keeping your slutty legs closed” to being empowered to give “enthusiastic consent,” to borrow a phrase from sex-positive feminist author Jaclyn Friedman.

For all those reasons, this ad campaign doesn’t sit easily with me and I agree it can read as victim-blaming. But I’m also of the mindset that there are certain things people should be encouraged to do when it comes to putting substances in your body:

  1. Know your limits. Do not drink so much that you can’t take care of yourself. This includes getting yourself home safely at the end of the night and that means both not going home with Mr. Serial Killer, but also not drunk driving.   
  2. Communicating what you want clearly and firmly, despite being buzzed, tipsy or drunk.* 
  3. If you can’t take care of yourself, ensure you have a sober or less-drunk friend act as a literal “designated driver” or a “designated driver for life” who can take care of you. A Jenni to your Snooki, if you will. Don’t Snooki if you can’t be your own JWoww or you don’t have a JWoww with you. If your “designated driver” friend proves untrustworthy, he or she sucks and now you know their true colors. (I have an ex-friend who once abruptly left me at a club, without saying goodbye, with a complete stranger who tried to physically shove me into a cab back to his place when I wanted to go home. This woman is no longer my friend for ditching me in that scenario.) 

I know my thoughts on this can be controversial. To be sure, I’m afraid of sounding like a baby Katie Roiphe. It’s something I have had emotional debates with friends about, including one close friend who was sexually assaulted while she was drunk. I’m aware of and well-versed in the feminist arguments that disagree with me on the specific points listed above. (Which I could get into, but I will assume they are self-apparent to anyone with a cursory knowledge of feminist theory. If anyone wants me to get into those arguments in more detail, ask me in the comments.)  But let me explain my feeling on it, which comes from a place of emotion just as deep-seeded in me as the feminists I disagree with about this.

I came from a family background with alcoholism and drug abuse in it. It’s not something I write about because it is private to me. However, I will share that I’ve spent years and years and years in Ala-non groups, Ala-teen groups, and individual therapy dealing with the ways substance abuse has affected my life and my belief systems (both in good and bad ways). And to that end, I very strongly feel — actually, I know — that people do things while on substances that they would not do if they were sober. This is true of people with alcoholism or substance abuse problems, as well as people who just got really, really, really wasted just one time (aka binge drinking, which is what the PA Liquor Control Board PSA is targeting). Substances are the reason their judgment is clouded; the substances are what turn Good Uncle Bob into Drunk Uncle Bob Who Drove His Pickup Truck Into The Swimming Pool. And the person who put too much of the substances into your body is you.  

I’m not anti-drinking, or anti-pot, or even anti-drug taking. (Which, given the drug-related crap I’ve dealt with in my life, might come as a surprise.) I love alcohol and wish pot didn’t make me paranoid, because it used to make me feel great. I simply think that taking more drugs or drinking more booze* than you can handle is stupid. (And if you are reading this and you don’t know your limits, find them out, girl!)

To be sure, I’m not a paragon of good choices in every area of my life. But one area in which I’ve strived since a young age to make good choices has been in never getting so drunk or high that I couldn’t leave/get help/communicate clearly/etc. At least twice, I epically failed at those goals — once really drunk in high school, once drunk and high in college — and they were extremely upsetting experiences and really embarrassing for me. I am lucky that no rapists were present at either occasion to prey on me, because I couldn’t have even tried to take care of myself then. I realize it is f**ked up that I have to say I was “lucky” no rapists raped me, but alas, that’s the sexist society we all live in.  

I want to be clear: Rapists are responsible for committing rape and all rapists should be put behind bars for the rest of their lives. I warp into a Bill O’Reilly “hang ‘em high!” ideologue on that issue. If you aren’t convinced that I believe this, go read every single thing I’ve ever written under the “rape” and “sexual assault” tags on this site. Alas, I’m really not talking about rapists here, though; I am talking about people who drink or do drugs and get incapacitated.*  It’s not as cut-and-dry to me that the choices a person makes while on drugs/drunk shouldn’t matter. I, personally, am bothered by the reason/excuse/argument “I was so drunk I didn’t know what was going on” because I’ve heard it 300 times before.  

So, back to the PSAs. Yeah, they are bad PSAs. Better PSAs about alcohol and date rape would depict a drunk girl with a guy standing over her and the words “Did you get consent?” or “If she can’t say yes, it’s not consent” or “If she can’t say yes, it’s rape.” 

But do I feel as strongly as, say, Feministing does that these PSAs are terrible? No. I feel that they’re unfortunate. They’re victim-blaming. Yet they’re not off-base that drinking, especially binge drinking, more than your limit* is stupid. Taking care of yourself — and your friends — is paramount.  

*Obviously, being drugged with a “date rape drug” is an extenuating circumstance. Rapists who use date rape drugs can sit in solitary confinement until they die, for all I care. It’s just evil. 

[Control Tonight]

[Feministing]

[Act.CredoAction.com]

Contact the author of this post at Jessica@TheFrisky.com. Follow me on Twitter at @JessicaWakeman.

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