A new (and extraordinarily unsurprising) study finds that imbibing alcohol doesn't have a Jekyll & Hyde-like effect upon otherwise mild-mannered and polite men, who in the throes of Dionysian mania "lose their inhibitions" and commit sexual assault. Actually, it's quite the opposite: researchers at the University of Toronto and the University of Washington have found that there is no relationship between male sexual aggression and intoxication. Sorry, rape apologists. Looks like you're going to have to find something else to write op-eds about.
The study — which is named after "Blurred Lines" by Robin Thicke because of course it is — had 140 young adults go into bars in Toronto and take note of every incident of aggression they witnessed. Of those incidents, 25 percent involved sexual aggression, and 90 percent the sexual aggression observed entailed women being harassed by men. According to Texas Public Radio, two-thirds of the aggressors physically touched women without consent, around 17 percent threatened contact, and 9 percent engaged in verbal harassment. Tellingly, the study found that "initiators' level of invasiveness was related to the intoxication of the targets, but not their own intoxication" — suggesting that drunk women are intentionally targeted by predators who are fully aware of what they're doing.
These findings go against a lot of the batshit conservative rhetoric (and/or the judgmental hand-wringing) that often accompanies discussions of binge drinking and sexual assault. So, sorry James Taranto, but drunken sexual assault isn't like "two drunk drivers... in a collision," an unfortunate little mishap that happens when two intoxicated humans bump into each other and the woman wakes up in the morning "feeling regretful and violated." Nor is it any individual woman's fault for getting too drunk (sorry, Emily Yoffe) — if an aggressor is looking to harass a the most vulnerable-seeming woman in the bar, this is a systemic, cultural problem that extends far deeper than one individual's drink consumption during one night out. Finally, it's not the result of miscommunication or drunken misunderstandings: "If you walk through a bar and grab a woman's breasts and then disappear into the crowd, that's probably not a misunderstanding." Kate Graham, the study's lead researcher, told TPR. "You don't actually think she wants you to do that."
"Sexual aggression is a major problem in bars often reflecting intentional sexual invasiveness and unwanted persistence rather than misperceptions in sexual advances," the study concludes. A good solution to this — other than addressing prevailing norms of masculinity real quick — is to train bartenders in bystander intervention. The study found that onlookers intervened in only 21 percent of the incidents of sexual aggression, which is a dismally low number. "There should be training for staff on how to intervene," Graham suggests. "If [a bar] wants to have female patrons, they ought to make it more female friendly." I'll drink to that.
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