Trigger warning: This piece contains reference to sexual assault.
The notion that a womxn can be blamed for being sexually assaulted after consuming alcohol is a damning but unrevelatory indictment of the era of victim-blaming that we are currently living in. This is sadly reflected in the recent Minnesota Supreme Court ruling, which acquitted a convicted rapist on the grounds that the female victim was “voluntarily intoxicated”. The unanimous ruling ordered a new trial for the perpetrator, Francios Momolu Khalil, and reversed the court’s decision to see Mr Khalil charged of third-degree criminal sexual conduct. In light of this ruling, womens’ rights groups and sexual assault survivors have called for legislative reform and have, according to the New York Times, ‘rekindled a campaign to strengthen a statute governing sexual assault, including by expanding the definition of mental incapacitation to say that people under the influence of drugs or alcohol are incapable of consenting to sex.’
This is not an isolated case, and the attitude that a drunk woman is ‘fair game’, which motivates this ruling, is not unique to the United States. The mentality which seeks to blame the victim of such an attack also permeates the British criminal justice system and breeds dangerous attitudes in our society towards crimes against women. In 2017 in reference to a British rape case, female judge Lindsay Kushner said that there was “absolutely no excuse” for sexual assault, but that predatory males gravitated towards women who were vulnerable. The Police Commissioner of Northumbria at the time, Dame Vera Baird, stated that this attitude can be condemned as “victim-blaming”, that a womxn’s “disinhibited behaviour could put them in danger and they were less likely to be believed than a sober victim”.
The attitude that Lindsay Kushner exemplified is a fragment of the bigger picture of victim-blaming that plagues our society. Her mentality advocates an accusation against women that
‘if you hadn’t been drunk, you wouldn’t have been raped’. This entirely draws attention away from the perpetrator and piles the responsibility solely onto the victim. Attitudes like this are extremely dangerous for several reasons. Firstly, if this attitude is normalised, perpetrators will feel justified in violating the body of another human being if they are intoxicated, putting womxn at greater risk, especially on a night-out. Secondly, this mindset sets a precedent for women who are deterred from reporting crimes for fear of not being believed.
In regard to the 2017 case, the campaign group End Violence Against Women stated “This judge should set a tone much higher than the victim-blaming attitudes which support and perpetuate violence against women.” These attitudes towards assault also start to bleed into how harassment is regarded. Sexual assault is defined by the Metropolitan Police as “an act of physical, psychological and emotional violation in the form of a sexual act, inflicted on someone without their consent”. Whereas harassment can refer to numerous intimidating or embarrassing behaviours including wolf-whistling or non-consensual touching which, in a social setting, have been deemed commonplace ‘banter’ or harmless ‘boys will be boys’ behaviour, even by individuals who deem rape unacceptable. This contradiction shows how certain sexual acts have been normalised, while womxn are dehumanised by this and left to feel that they can’t speak out against advances of this nature.
A similar case took place in 2018, when a drunk female was raped by a young man after she was told to leave a bar in London. The perpetrator, Sanjay Naker, took the 18-year-old woman to a secluded part of the Queen’s Corner, London Bridge and she was discovered shortly after the attack by the security staff. The Detective Constable dealing with the case, Aidan Kersley stated that “Naker deliberately targeted his victim as someone intoxicated and vulnerable.” Kersley then went on to report that “Naker then brazenly gave security guards his name, confident that the victim’s intoxication would protect him.” Although Naker was sentenced to eight years in prison, this case shows that predatory individuals continue to use alcohol as a ‘get out of jail free card’ to dislodge blame and use the vulnerability of another person to their advantage.
The treatment of women as sexual objects has become ingrained in the female psyche. We have been taught routine safeguarding techniques to protect ourselves– the length of the skirt or the cut of the top we wear, how much we drink, ensuring we know which route home we will take and who will accompany us before venturing out. But womxn can’t throw caution to the wind, as the prevalence of cases in both the UK and abroad prove that there is still work to be done before women can unlearn the behaviours used to deter an attack. Every man has a responsibility to call out inappropriate behaviour and make conscious decisions to create a safer environment for women. In having a drink on a night out, a womxn is neither ‘asking for it’ or ‘fair game’. Every womxn should be able to enjoy time with their friends, in the way men can, free from fear of being taken advantage of.