Rape and the ‘gendered’ effects of alcohol

Beer GermanyWhat is the nature of the link between alcohol, other drugs and crime? Is there a causal link between drug and alcohol consumption and rape? And if there is a link between alcohol and violence, how should we respond? SSAC staff recently took up these questions in a piece written for the Australian academic news website The Conversation.

The piece emerged as a response to an intense debate that played out through October and November 2013. It began when the American journalist Emily Yoffe (for Slate) argued that women should consume less alcohol as part of a strategy to minimise their chances of being raped. These ideas were subsequently picked up by Australian columnist Mia Freedman, who raised concerns about the relationship between alcohol and sexual violence. Like Yoffe, Freedman argued that she would teach her own daughter to minimise alcohol consumption in order to reduce her chances of being raped. Both of these columns and the ensuing debate raised a number of questions about the way the ‘effects’ of alcohol are understood.

In their article for The Conversation, Kate Seear and Suzanne Fraser argued that both columns imply that alcohol has certain (gendered) ‘effects’. Alcohol is understood to ‘enable’ rapists, for example, while it ‘renders’ women more vulnerable to attack. The authors argued that whether one wants to claim that alcohol causes rape or is causative, or is one of many causal variables, or is a risk factor, each of those claims is underpinned by (and in turn reinforces) a set of assumptions about the ‘effects’ of alcohol that need to be looked at more carefully and/or challenged. In particular, it appears that the way alcohol ‘effects’ are conceptualised is inherently gendered.

Pointing to recent research critically exploring the link between alcohol, impulsivity and crime, Seear and Fraser argued that policy and educational responses need to attend carefully to the many dynamic forces involved in producing rape as a specific gendered phenomenon. Most importantly, they also argue that we need to recognise that alcohol and other drugs do not produce consistent, stable, predictable ‘effects’. Read the full article here.