Don’t drink too much, you can’t guarantee your safety.
Watch out for your friends.
Don’t let friends get too drunk and make sure they get home safely, alone.
As a woman, these are messages I’ve been hearing since I was young. At Christmas we’re reminded that it’s our responsibility not to be raped and to keep ourselves safe by not drinking too much. The media constantly reinforces the idea that a woman who was drunk was in some way responsible for being raped (if in fact it was rape at all). Earlier this year Alison Saunders, the head of the Crown Prosecution Service commented that
If a girl goes out and gets drunk and falls over … they are almost demonised in the media, and if they then become a victim, you can see how juries would bring their preconceptions to bear.
It’s no wonder then more than a quarter of people (30%) say that a woman was partially or totally responsible for being raped if she was drunk.
Men however are expected to drink. It’s only a bit of fun. They’re legends if they can drink vast amounts of alcohol and stay standing. Any ill behaviour is just ‘boys being boys’. Rowdiness is part of the package. A rape case in the courts this week however showed exactly why the ‘don’t drink too much’ messages are being aimed at the wrong people.
Yesterday Zack Thompson was jailed for six year for raping a 17 year old woman. For two and a half years he stuck to the defence that he had been sleepwalking - he didn’t deny having done it, but he said he couldn’t remember it. He had however, drunk 7 or 8 pints of lager that evening. When investigating his sleepwalking defence an expert in the field found that
Thompson’s memory loss began around half an hour before he went to bed, and concluded his memory loss was highly likely to have been the result of drinking excessive amounts of alcohol, and not sleepwalking.
When the sleepwalking defence was disproved he then claimed insanity, which was also disproved. Eventually he admitted to rape.
In a recent case in Ireland another man admitted raping a woman under after having
drank 13 cans of beer, three pints, six shots, three double vodkas and smoked a cannabis joint before the incident.
In this case the Judge, Justice Paul Carney said
it was the “experience of the court” that a young man taking the amount of drink that he had, along with a cannabis joint, could wake up the next morning unaware that he had committed homicide or rape.
Interestingly, in the Irish Times report on the case, they still made sure to point out that the victim “had drunk a large amount and went to sleep in one of the bedrooms at about 3.30am.”
So why is it that women are still the ones being told not to drink too much? The consistent message sent is that if they do, they won’t be able to consent to sex and are at risk of being raped. Surely the message should be to men. Don’t drink so much that you cannot control your behaviour or gain consent. Don’t drink so much that you can’t remember what you’ve done.
When the Reclaim the Night marches were relaunched in the UK it was largely a response to women being told not to go out at night as they were at risk of being attacked by the ‘Yorkshire Ripper’. But if a man was the perpetrator and women the victims, why weren’t men being told to stay at home? Reclaim the Night followed.
Whenever I’ve seen these kinds of issues raised before the response from many men is that all men are not rapists so why do they need to be told not to behave like one. And yet, it’s perfectly fine to tell all women to modify their behaviour because some men are rapists. In the Irish case the man convicted was genuinely remorseful and told the court “I’m sorry, I’m not a bastard. I have feelings”. He wouldn’t see himself as ‘a rapist’ and probably would’ve raised objections at being targeted by anti-rape messages before this happened.
Drinking to excess isn’t good for any of us. Drinking to the extent that you don’t know what you’re doing or can’t remember it the next morning is just not healthy and a lot more needs to be done to tackle drinking culture generally in our society. But targeting women in these campaigns is misguided. Women are constantly told to protect themselves but we now need to tell men to control themselves instead. If you are at risk of behaving violently when drunk then you’re the one who needs to drink less - not us.