It’s closely associated with sexual assault. And yet we’re reluctant to tell men to stop doing it.
In one awful high-profile case after another—the U.S. Naval Academy; Steubenville, Ohio; now the allegations in Maryville, Mo.—we read about a young man, sometimes only a boy, who goes to a party and ends up raping. As soon as the school year begins, so do reports of male students sexually assaulting their female classmates. A common denominator in these cases is alcohol, often copious amounts. But the obsessive focus on blaming the victim has made it somehow unacceptable to warn inexperienced young men that when they get wasted, they are putting young women in potential peril.
A 2009 study of campus sexual assault found that by the time they are seniors, many college men will become rapists, overwhelmingly of a fellow classmate. Very few will ever be reported to authorities. The same study states that more than 80 percent of campus sexual assaults involve alcohol. Frequently both the man and the woman have been drinking. The men tend to use the drinking to justify their behavior, as this survey of research on alcohol-related campus sexual assault by Antonia Abbey, professor of psychology at Wayne State University, illustrates, while for many of the women, having been drunk becomes a source of guilt and shame.
Let’s be totally clear: Perpetrators are the ones responsible for committing their crimes, and they should be brought to justice. But we are failing to let men know that when they drink their decision-making skills into oblivion, they can do terrible things. Young men are getting a distorted message that their right to match each other drink for drink is proof of their masculinity. The real masculine message should be that when you lose the ability to be responsible for yourself, you drastically increase the chances that you will become the kind of person who, shall we say, doesn’t have others’ best interest at heart. That’s not saying all men are rapists; that’s trying to prevent more rapes.