The Inevitable Conclusion of Mia Freeman’s Logic

So Mia Freedman (backing up someone on Slate whose name I can’t be bothered researching) thinks that part of the answer to stopping rape is to warn women about drinking to much and getting into dangerous situations. My friends Amy Gray, Clementine Ford and Karen Pickering amongst others have been ripping her (and her defender Susie O’Brien) to intellectual shreds.

I’m not going to repeat these arguments because, put simply, Clementine and Amy and Karen are right and they’re all more articulate than I am (and also women) so why waste your time reading me – go listen to them.

But there is an additional argument that I haven’t seen made very much (acknowledging of course that I might be missing cases where it has been made). It is not as important as the ones that Amy and Clementine are making. I know that Oscar Wilde, or whoever it was who said “Multiple arguments are always less convincing than one” had a point, but I find it really hard to resist getting all the arguments out there even when the strongest ones have been made. So here goes.

Let us imagine, purely as a  Gedankenexperiment, that a large proportion of rapes actually do involve the sort of cases Mia and Suzy are talking about, where drunk women are raped who wouldn’t be if they were sober. In this case we could protect individual young women from being raped by telling them not to drink so much. And you would expect that this would be what parents and friends would do to the women they love.

But doing so would almost certainly not reduce the total number of rapes. Because the rapists would just go out and rape some other woman. Maybe one they found a little less attractive. Maybe one a little less drunk. Maybe they would just wait a little longer until a suitable victim came along. But the total number of rapes would not fall. Because as long as there was a sufficient number of men keen to commit rapes out there somewhere, they would find a way.

Now it is quite understandable that individuals would think “well it’s terrible that rape occurs, but if it is going to happen I’d rather it happened to some woman I have never met than my daughter/my student/my friend.” This is a normal human reaction, and I share it.

So indeed this might be what we would all do. But is it something we should advocate, Mia and Suzy style? No. If all we are doing is shifting around who gets raped, what is gained by telling people to warn the young women in their lives? Putting out this advice would just shift the women who get raped from one woman Mia has never met to another woman she has not met. Where is the gain in that?

Unless of course you believe that, out beyond those you know and love there are classes of women who are more important than other classes. That if, for example, we managed to cut the number of middle class women getting raped at the expense of increasing the number of other women who suffered exactly the same violation.

Is that what Mia and Suzy believe? I’ll leave that to you. But if it isn’t, then maybe, whatever they tell their own daughters, they should go easy on the mass media moralising.

Footnote: In the circumstances I described above there would still be a very good argument for subsidising self defense classes. Because a swift kick to the genitals of attempted rapists might not only prevent that rape, but also make the rapist disinclined to go after any other woman. Indeed if it was known that enough women were capable of doing some serious damage to a man’s nether regions rapists might be disinclined to start – at least on their own; I’m not sure this would do much about gang rape of the sort seen at Steubenville.

About Stephen Luntz

I am a science journalist, specialising in Australian and New Zealand research across all fields of science. My book, Forensics, Fossils and Fruitbats: A Field Guide to Australian Scientists is out now through CSIRO Publishing. I am also a professional returning officer for non-government organisations. I'm very politically active, but generally try to restrict this blog to scientific matters.
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7 Responses to The Inevitable Conclusion of Mia Freeman’s Logic

  1. akismet-94ceed658c50708e33973335d9c67253 says:

    I don’t think rapists often plan to go out and rape someone – especially not those that commit date rape. (I don’t have data to support that, admittedly.) I also don’t see the victim-blaming that’s being talked about, nor any problem with what O’Brien and Freedman are saying.
    The reaction I’d like to see is “Yes, fair point, take care. Now let’s talk about men and rape.”

  2. So what you are saying is we should encourage all women to become drunk to try and provide predator satiation as a defense mechanism for women as a whole? 😉

  3. Chris, I agree that most date rape does not involve a rapist planning to rape someone. But I think in most of those cases it also doesn’t involve that much alcohol, at least on the victim’s part.

    My point, and perhaps I didn’t make this clearly enough because quite a few people seem not to have got it, is that most rapes don’t involve these sort of situations. But then most rapes don’t involve drunk victims, so what Mia is talking about is a minority of cases, which she is implying are a majority. And I’m then addressing that minority.

    Lachlin, I’m not sure if you are trolling, or just think this is funny, but frankly I abide by the principle – when joking about rape ask yourself “is this something that will make rapists feel better, or those who have been raped.” I don’t think your comment is likely to be on the right side of that.

    • Hey Stephen, neither, perhaps just a misplaced a comment on inevitable conclusions that can be drawn. I think your “belated” update below adds a lot to the post that makes your thinking, and conclusions behind it a lot clearer. I’d actually started writing a rather longer comment but I just couldn’t get what I was trying to say to come across clearly so gave up and went with the obtuse comment above. Apologies if I offended. 🙂

  4. I’ve got some thoughtful comments on my facebook page to this, and have decided to “belatedly” respond here.

    I think some people may have misunderstood what I was trying to say. Given the intelligence and decency of the people who have done this I accept that the issue is probably mine rather than their’s so I thought it worth expanding.

    I’m *not* trying to argue that all rape involves predators lying in wait for a victim like the stereotypical figure lurking in underused parks at night. That’s very rare. But it is an example of the sort of situation Freedman actually seems to be targeting her advice towards.

    I’m sorry if this seems a bit forensic, but to understand the problem I think we need to break the sorts of situations where rape happens down.

    A large proportion of rapes (and no I have not researched the stats because I think they would be unreliable even with the best will in the world) occur to children, both male and female. Unless Freedman thinks drinking too much red cordial makes someone vulnerable to abusive adults I think we can see that her advice is useless here.

    A second major category, as Amy Gray notes is of adults, in institutions, be they nursing homes, hospitals or facilities for the disabled. I very much doubt alcohol is an issue there either.

    And then there are the incredibly common rapes that occur within relationships, where a husband or boyfriend thinks he has the right to sex with his partner. The overwhelming bulk of women who have shared their stories of being raped with me experienced it in this circumstance, although that probably is not a very representative sample. I suppose it is possible that in some tiny proportion of these cases the women were affected by alcohol, and might have been able to fight their partner off if they hadn’t been, but it would still have been utterly traumatising even to have to use physical force to defend oneself against someone you have previously loved, and difficult given the usual/weight strength imbalance. Alcohol is definitely a factor here, but of the perpetrators.

    Between these three groups we have eliminated the overwhelming majority of rapes, and to that category I would add the cases which resemble child molestation – for example the sports coach who assaults his pupil knowing that, while technically an adult, she is unlikely to go to the police because she still feels in a child-like position relative to him.

    So once we have rule these cases out, what are we left with that Freedman could even be talking about? Well, as noted there is the stereotype mugger in the park/housebreaker. It’s true in these cases that individuals can reduce their risk by taking busy routes home or putting bars on their windows, but this will do precisely nothing to reduce the number of rapes that will occur. All it does is mean a different woman will be attacked.

    Similarly, there is the case of the rapist who goes out to a nightclub with rohypnol planning to spike some woman’s drink so he can drag her home or to the toilets. Drinking less, minding your drink etc may cut the chances of *you* being the one who gets raped, but does nothing for the overall stats. I think cases like Steubenville fall pretty much into this class. I’m not sure whether the victim in that case actually had been drinking a lot, or whether her drink had been spiked. However, what is clear is that even if she had stuck to lemonade all night someone was going to get raped – the attitudes of Mays and Richmond, not to mention everyone around them, guaranteed it. For an individual parent telling their daughter to stay away from alcohol might have been good advice, but from a society point of view it would simply have shifted who the victim turned out to be.

    Cases like this represent a fairly small proportion of rapes, but they are the ones that Freedman is trying to address, while in the process piling pain on top of all the other victims who get portrayed as having done something stupid and brought the problem on themselves.

    It is true that there is one other circumstance in which rape occurs: “date rape” where there is no ongoing relationship but (in hetrosexual circumstances) the man still thinks he has some right to sex and takes it by force. It’s probably true that in some of these cases the rapist wouldn’t be inclined to, or capable of, forcing any woman who said no. That alcohol or drugs might limit the woman’s capacity to fight him off or scream for help and the perpetrator might act, where in other circumstances he would reluctantly go home alone. So in some sense Freedman has a point, and I think this is what some of my friends have said. But I think here we are not so much losing sight of the forest for the trees, but for the twigs. We are talking here about a small subset of rapes in one of the less common categories among seven I have described. Probably less than 1% of cases, definitely less than 5%.

    So those like Freedman, O’Brien and Yoffe who think that this is an important topic to spend their time writing about are addressing an exceptionally rare instance while simultaneously making a whole swag of potential rapists feel better about what they did/are about to do, make survivors of all categories of rapes feel worse and juries less likely to convict. Yeah way to go guys.

    On the other hand, the cases where following this type of advice might change who got raped without affecting the number of rapes are still a minority, but substantially more common. And to be honest I think this is the point. The advice so often comes from people who have demonstrated consistently that they regard some women as more worthy of concern than others that I can’t escape the suspicion that if their advice was adopted and nice middle class women were replaced as the subjects for attack by women of a different class or colour they would feel like they had achieved something in the process.

  5. Momo says:

    Huge problem in Ireland with alcohol & sexual assault. Irish Rape Crisis Centre did big study. Check out their website. Also Harvard College alcohol Study comprehensive.
    Another good report here
    There are many more…

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