WSJ Editor Argues Intoxicated Sexual Assault Victims Should Share the Blame, Because, Alcohol

For some reason completely unfathomable to me, there are still people out there on the national stage arguing over who is to blame in sexual assault cases. In his editorial column in the Wall Street Journal Monday, opinion editor James Taranto shared his thoughts on sexual assaults on college campuses involving alcohol. As he sees it, if both parties have been consuming alcohol then they are both equally as guilty for the sexual assault. Technically, Taranto argues, neither party can consent while drunk, meaning both parties are responsible for assaulting each other. Clever. We'll let his choice words speak for themselves:

What is called the problem of "sexual assault" on campus is in large part a problem of reckless alcohol consumption, by men and women alike. (Based on our reporting, the same is true in the military, at least in the enlisted and company-grade officer ranks.)

Which points to a limitation of the drunk-driving analogy. If two drunk drivers are in a collision, one doesn't determine fault on the basis of demographic details such as each driver's sex. But when two drunken college students "collide," the male one is almost always presumed to be at fault. His diminished capacity owing to alcohol is not a mitigating factor, but her diminished capacity is an aggravating factor for him.

He goes on to quote the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which argues that "if both parties are intoxicated during sex, they are both technically guilty of sexually assaulting each other."

So, just to clarify, if you are assaulted while under the influence of alcohol then not only should you shoulder half of the blame — but you too are guilty of assault. I particularly like the way he put "sexual assault" in quotation marks, as though he doesn't think it's a real thing. Nice touch.

Unsurprisingly, readers took to Twitter and were furious about Taranto's remarks.

This is not the first time that female sexual assault victims have been advised that their alcohol consumption should make them partly responsible for the actions of their attackers. Last October, Slate columnist Emily Yoffe suggested that young women who don't want to be raped should stop getting drunk. Because, you know, when you're drunk it's totally unreasonable to expect males around you to behave responsibly and make sure you get home unharmed. She wrote:

If female college students start moderating their drinking as a way of looking out for their own self-interest — and looking out for your own self-interest should be a primary feminist principle — I hope their restraint trickles down to the men...
...a misplaced fear of blaming the victim has made it somehow unacceptable to warn inexperienced young women that when they get wasted, they are putting themselves in potential peril.

We already know that women assaulted on college campuses, usually by someone they know, find it exceptionally hard to come forward and report the attacks. They may fear retaliation by their peers, or that they will be judged as partly responsible for consuming alcohol, for walking home alone, for placing their trust in the wrong person. Comments such as those made by Taranto and Yoffe make it even harder for young women to come forward and report sexual assault.

If we want to reduce sexual assault on college campuses then we need to stop focusing on what young women should be doing to protect themselves. Instead, we should put our efforts into teaching students that sexual assault is a despicable crime that is unacceptable under every single circumstance, and should commit to coming down hard on perpetrators of sexual violence.

What we shouldn't do? Lend much credence to another middle-aged man offering an "opinion" that sounds an awful lot like thinly-veiled slut shaming. How you like them quotation marks, Taranto?