A conservative think tank has embarked upon a quest to convince us all that women worry way too much about getting drugged and raped. This is an interesting hill to die on.
According to a new video from Caroline Kitchens at the American Enterprise Institute, we foolishly live in "constant fear" of being roofied by strangers in bars, when in fact women should just... the alternative here isn't quite clear. Not watch our drinks at bar? Assume that nobody's going to mess with our beverage, so maybe wander off for a little bit and do some other things? Or hey, why not just hand your beer to a stranger? He probably won't do anything weird to it!
This inspiring message, which resonates with precisely nobody, is the latest in a series called The Factual Feminist, a weekly dose of bummer usually hosted by Christina Hoff Sommers, a resident scholar at the think tank. (Sommers is one of a small army of Gamergate defenders who have decided to back the Gamergaters in a fight with some writers over at our brother site Gawker. The Gamergaters call Sommers "mom," a Freudian field day we'll have to leave for another time.)
Here's the video from Kitchens:
The argument here, if you'd rather not sit through five long minutes of that, is essentially that date rape drugs exist, but aren't very commonly used.
"A reality check is in order," Kitchens intones. "Our fear of being drugged and sexually assaulted by a predatory stranger in a bar is not grounded in reality." She suggests that the whole "process" of being drugged and raped sounds just ridiculous to her: "Just think about it: it requires a stranger to find the drugs, slip them into a woman's drink undetected, manage to take the victim away from her friends without anyone noticing and then reliably erase her memory of the experience."
This is a fascinating, half-terrible argument. We'll start with (some of) the factual things that are wrong with it, since, God help us, we have to wade in somewhere. The not-terrible part: It's true that you're more likely to be raped or sexually assaulted by a friend or a family member than by a stranger at a bar plying you with a spiked drink. And Kitchens more or less correctly cites this 2005 study from the United Kingdom, which found that in 1,014 rape cases over three years where date rape drugs were suspected of being used, toxicology tests turned up "a sedative or disinhibiting drug" in just 21 of those cases, or two percent.
But Kitchens veers solidly into awfulness when she suggests that the real problem is Dumb Bitches Getting Too Drunk. Or, as she puts it, "Most commonly, victims of drug-facilitated sexual assault are severely intoxicated, often of their own volition."
To start, the presence of alcohol and other drugs in rape cases is trickier than Kitchens makes it out to be. She doesn't mention this very large 2007 study by the U.S. Department of Justice, which estimated that nearly three million women in the U.S. have been victims of drug-facilitated rape at some point in their lifetime. As with the study that Kitchens looked at, Rohypnol (roofies) were very, very uncommon: the DOJ researchers estimate they're only used in about two percent of drug-faciliated rape. In the vast majority of cases, they found, alcohol was the primary drug. (When a second drug was present, it was usually marijuana.) But there are also over 100 other benzodiazepines, and it's not at all clear that they're all tested for in incidents of suspected drug-facilitated rape.
In the cases where alcohol alone is suspected, how did said alcohol get consumed by the victim? Again, here, Kitchens isn't entirely wrong: in a lot of cases, yes, the assaulted people drank alcohol voluntarily; in some, they were plied with alcohol by their assailants, given drinks that were stronger than they realized, or a host of other scenarios. The end result is the same: a person was raped or sexually assaulted after they became too impaired to consent to sex or fight off their attackers. Rape doesn't become less of a crime if the victim is voluntarily drunk.
But the DOJ researchers also noted a real gap in our understanding of drug-facilitated rape, because victims simply aren't asked very detailed questions during many rape examinations. In order to know how often rape victims believe they were drugged, it turns out, you have to ask them.
"While current assessment batteries routinely involve asking about voluntary use of drugs or alcohol," they write, "they do not routinely include assessment of whether the victim believed she was given some substance (known or unknown) alone or in combination with voluntary use."
The DOJ study also found, as the researchers write, that the perpetrators "were known to the victim in a high percentage of forcible rape, drug-facilitated, and incapacitated rape incidents." This isn't an argument for not watching your drink because someone probably won't roofie it. This is an argument for watching your drink even more closely, even, sadly, when you think you're among friends.
There are other logical issues with Kitchens' argument. She seems to proceed from the assumption that most rapes are reported to law enforcement, which we know still isn't true: the DOJ study estimates it's only around 16 percent. What's more, they write, "victims of drug-facilitated or incapacitated rape were somewhat less likely to report to the authorities than victims of forcible rape." (Maybe because they think someone will accuse them of just getting too drunk and "forgetting" they consented to sex? Hard to see where they might get that impression!) And according to the Society of Forensic Toxicologists, drugs become much harder to detect in urine after 120 hours or so, and undetectable in the blood after 24 hours.
In other words, then, drug-facilitated rape is both more underreported and harder to test for than Kitchens implies, as well as much more common. But issues of fact aside, we all know what she's is really getting at here, under the sickly-sweet, carefully calibrated tone of concern, the faux-sisterhood language, and the strobe-lighted images of young white women traipsing through the club. She's trying to say that rape victims are, in some sense, the architects of their own rapes, by willingly getting too drunk or high in the presence of the wrong person.
Conservatives always seem to suspect that talking about roofies is some kind of trick, a dodge. They seem to see it as a way for women to avoid talking about "personal responsibility," a phrase the American Enterprise Institute uses so many times on their website, if you did a shot every time you read it, it wouldn't be long before you needed to get your stomach pumped.
But Kitchens' conclusion isn't even that it's not a bad idea to watch your drink; she allows that's still probably a reasonable thing to do. But, the implication here is simple, and it's nasty: if you think you got roofied, you probably didn't. So why bother mentioning that suspicion to the police, right? Why even report your rape at all? It's probably somehow, at some level, your fault. It's the same vicious old argument, in other words — don't get too drunk, girls, if you don't want to wind up raped! — buried under a new, laughably thin layer of purported "feminism."
"Feminists should be concerned that women are modifying their behavior on their girls night's out in order to protect themselves from some vague improbable threat," Kitchens tells us, somewhere near the end of this exhausting slog. But what she doesn't acknowledge — or even seem aware of — is that women feel forced to modify their behavior in ways large and small to stay safe all the time. It sucks, and we hate it, but we still do it. Watching your drink at a bar is what we might call harm reduction, a strategy to mitigate, in some small way, the effects of living in a toxic culture where rape is pervasive. Awareness of date rape drugs is one of the things in the shitty, depressing bag of tools we've all developed to try to stay safe. It's not "constant fear," as Kitchens suggests. It's just reasonable caution and concern.
And when that bag of tools fails and someone is raped or sexually assaulted, whose fault is it? Oh, right: the person committing the rape. Always. Every single time. Whether the victim was drunk, high, stone-sober or any combination thereof. And the more we argue over Rohypnol or idiotic roofie-detecting nail polish or just how often someone might be spiking our drinks, the more we veer further and further away from the real issue: the people who think it's fine and acceptable to commit rape, very often against someone they know, someone who trusts them. Any other discussion at this point it starting to feel deliberately evasive, a way to avoid shining the light where it truly belongs.
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