My cat’s name is Mia

*TW – discussion of rape and sexual assault*

I’m going to go ahead and put forward my own bit on why I think Mia Freedman was wrong with her comments about alcohol and rape.

I’ve read some really great posts around the interwebs and if there is one thing I’m grateful for it is the many wonderful articles and blog posts from so many women speaking out about this issue. Women aren’t to blame for rape, even if they’ve had a few. Kerri Sackville  has very helpfully explained how Mia’s advice, however well intentioned, and despite her claims to the contrary, actually does blame victims of rape. It’s making a causal claim that does it and so I want to look further at that statement:

“Not drinking dramatically reduces the risk of rape….there is a crystal clear connection between alcohol and sexual assault, both for the victim and the perpetrator.”

That’s a pretty strong claim, crystal clear, no room for doubt. Mia does back up this claim by quoting an ABS study “Contribution of Alcohol and/or any Other Substance to Assault”

From which we get:

“Victims of sexual assault were more likely to believe alcohol and/or any other substance contributed to the most recent incident they experienced if the offender was a friend (76%). This was significantly higher than the overall proportion of victims of physical assault who believed alcohol and/or any other substance contributed to their most recent incident (59%).”

Interestingly enough, the same paper states in the opening sentence

“there is no clear relationship between the level of alcohol consumed and the likelihood of becoming either a victim or perpetrator of violence.”

But I guess Mia didn’t read that bit.

From a Whisper to a Roar has explained the problems associated with drawing strong conclusions from self-report methodology, so I’m not going to add anything to that, but it’s certainly something to consider.

Far from being “crystal clear” the Australian Institute of Criminology paper cited states that “a range of factors can influence the likelihood, frequency and severity of violence”.

What is probably worth noting from that same paper is that:

“Persons who drank alcohol (defined as those who had consumed any alcohol in the past year) were 1.4 times (or 40%) more likely to have been victimised than non-drinkers…. How often and how much the victim drank (that is the victim’s own drinking pattern) was, surprisingly, not significantly associated with risk of alcohol related violence”

So I guess Mia will now be altering her position from advising her daughters not to “get wasted” and instead to not drink at all. It will be have to be octsober forever, given the crystal clear connection between drinking any amount of alcohol and becoming a victim of violent crime.

Binge drinking is, of course, generally not a great idea, for various reasons. Like Mia I will teach my children that binge drinking is a foolish pastime and I would encourage them to drink responsibly due to the crystal clear connection between drinking too much and slurring nonsense like a fool and thoroughly embarrassing yourself.

“But my conversations with my daughter will be different because women are physically more vulnerable to sexual assault than men. I’m not going to pretend that’s not the case. And I’m not going to pretend alcohol isn’t a factor.”

And my conversations with my sons will be different because men are far more likely to be both perpetrators and victims of violent crimes, especially men who have been drinking.

“At least one-half of all violent crimes involve alcohol consumption by the perpetrator, the victim, or both (Collins and Messerschmidt 1993). Sexual assault fits this pattern. Thus, across the disparate populations studied, researchers consistently have found that approximately one-half of all sexual assaults are committed by men who have been drinking alcohol….alcohol consumption by perpetrators and victims tends to co-occur… rarely is only the victim drinking alcohol. 

So it might even be more crucial to educate men on the connection between alcohol and violent crimes, especially considering that telling women not to drink won’t prevent rape. Perhaps because there seems to be no statistical trend of women raping people when they are drunk.

“Although alcohol consumption and sexual assault frequently co-occur, this phenomenon does not prove that alcohol use causes sexual assault…surveys of victims and perpetrators cannot unequivocally demonstrate a cause-effect relationship between alcohol consumption and sexual assault,”

What no direct cause-effect relationship? But this is crystal clear stuff, Mia said so!

Preventing sexual assault and other violent crimes in our society is a huge task, and I’m sure Mia would agree this is a complicated issue. Like News with Nipples  said “if women could prevent sexual assault, then we’d all prevent it and there’d be no sexual assault. It’s a no-brainer.” But it’s just not that simple.

There is really no need to connect a “don’t get wasted, it’s not good for you” message with a rape warning. If I thought that there was a direct causative link between alcohol passing between a woman’s lips and sexual assault, you bet I would tell all my lady friends, “Don’t do that! It directly causes rape!” But there is no crystal clear link. There are trends and circumstances and sometimes just bad luck. The one crystal clear connection, that people have repeated over and over again, is that being in the presence of a rapist who wants to rape you greatly increases your risk of rape.