Wall Street Journal Columnist James Taranto Compares Campus Sexual Assault To Drunk Driving

Wall Street Journal columnist James Taranto is pretty much that douchey frat boy who you never invite to a party, but somehow ends up there anyway , and you wish he would just go somewhere far, far away so you never had to think about all the obnoxious things he’s said. Remember him? He called the military’s effort to eradicate sexual assault a “war on male sexuality.” He’s tweeted that he hoped the young women whose boyfriends died saving them during the Aurora, Colorado, shooting were “worthy of the sacrifice.”  So it should come as no surprise to you that he is blaming rape victims for drinking. 

In his column, Taranto wrote about bystander intervention efforts, where friends or even strangers are encouraged to break up situations where it looks like one or both partners are too drunk to consent. He describes a guy who was riding in a taxi home with a friend, who had met a young woman who was “hammered,” and “it was obvious she was down for whatever.” But the guy convinced his friend they should take the drunk woman home because she “lost her inhibitions to the point that it really seemed like a good idea for her to go home with this guy she hardly knew.” (They did end up taking her home; the friend was “angry,” but the young woman thanked the guy the next day.)

You might look at this situation and think the guy is really a great bloke for realizing the young woman was too drunk to consent. But James Taranto looks at this situation as the friend was the potential victim here. The guy deserved kudos, apparently, for saving his friend’s hide from legal recourse. Preventing him from possibly being accused of rape after potentially sexually assaulting a “hammered” woman? That was the nice thing he did:

Whom exactly did [he] save from danger? The answer is quite possibly both the young woman and his friend. Had she awakened the next day feeling regretful and violated, she could have brought him up on charges and severely disrupted his life. Both of them were taking foolish risks, and it seems likely that he as well as she had impaired judgment owing to excessive drinking.

This is textbook victim-blaming: Taranto doesn’t see this situation as problematic because the friend didn’t get enthusiastic consent (and the young woman clearly couldn’t give it). He sees it as a problem simply about drinking.

What is called the problem of “sexual assault” on campus is in large part a problem of reckless alcohol consumption, by men and women alike.

Yes, he actually did put “sexual assault” in scare quotes.

Let me make a few things clear: drinking, of course, is a factor in sexual assault. Binge drinking culture — including underage binge drinking — is like a damp bathtub where mold can freely grow. Alcohol consumption is something that needs to be addressed as part of eradicating rape culture. But sexual assault doesn’t only happen because victims are drunk. Sexual assault happens because rapists exploit their victim’s diminished faculties. Sexual assault happens because it’s easier to physically overpower someone who is very drunk; sexual assault happens because when someone is passed out, they can’t say “no.” Sexual assault happens because rapist do not care about getting enthusiastic consent.

That’s why James Taranto’s anaology about drunk driving is so offensive:

 If two drunk drivers are in a collision, one doesn’t determine fault on the basis of demographic details such as each driver’s sex. But when two drunken college students “collide,” the male one is almost always presumed to be at fault. His diminished capacity owing to alcohol is not a mitigating factor, but her diminished capacity is an aggravating factor for him.

If we lived in a culture where women were sexually assaulted as frequently as men are, his analogy might make more sense. But we don’t: women and girls are sexually assaulted in far greater numbers. According to statistics from the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, one out of every six women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime. In comparison, one out of every 33 men have experienced attempted or completed rape. Why are these numbers so different? Because women and girls are targeted for sexual assault.

No one can blame sexual assault on drinking miscommunications alone, despite James Taranto’s passion for erasing victims. Surely he knows that sexual assault exists even when alcohol or drugs are not around … right? Drugs and alcohol may exacerbate situations where sexual assault occurs, but we live in a rape culture in the first place. These things don’t happen in a vacuum. Taranto’s Wall Street Journal column doesn’t enlighten anyone at all about alcohol and sexual assault; instead it only tells us that Taranto is a victim blamer and a rape apologist.

[Wall Street Journal]
[RAINN Statistics on Rape Victims]

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[Image of woman in the rearview mirror via Shutterstock]