TPM Cafe: Opinion

What's Really Happening With Rape Isn't 'Brainwashing'

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It is true that “radical feminists” such as the Department of Justice have argued that rapists often use drugs and alcohol to facilitate rape. Partially, they believe this because rapists themselves admit to it. Delgado seems to assume that there’s a lot of drunken sex that the man believes was consensual, but is later told that he’s being charged with rape. But researcher David Lisak found the opposite was true: Rapists deliberately seek out very drunk women or deliberately get women very drunk in order to rape them.

Surveying over 2,000 men on college campuses about their sexual history, Lisak found that about 1 in 16 of them admitted to raping someone (so long as you didn’t call it rape). Most of the admitted rapists said yes to this question: “Have you ever had sexual intercourse with someone, even though they did not want to, because they were too intoxicated [on alcohol or drugs] to resist your sexual advances?” (Emphasis mine.)

In other words, it’s not the drugs or alcohol that made it rape. It’s the lack of consent. Women aren’t being brainwashed into thinking they were raped. They are being educated about the fact that the guy who forced himself on them while they were too drunk to fight back really meant it.

Delgado proudly explains that she is not an outsider to the world of either sex or alcohol, smugly writing, “I am fairly certain that a statistically significant amount of sex — including very enjoyable sex — happens under the influence of alcohol.” As a hands-on expert, then, she should know that there’s a big difference between having had a few and being too wasted to express yourself, fight back, or even understand what’s going on. (It’s not just rapists either. Other criminals, such as muggers, know drunk people make easy marks because they can’t fight back.)

This distinction comes up again and again in the actual literature on the subject, including Lisak’s research. Take, for instance, the White House task force on campus sexual assault. In the recommendations to schools for how to define situations where consent is not possible, it reads, “Incapacitation (such as due to the use of drugs or alcohol, when a person is asleep or unconscious, or because of an intellectual or other disability that prevents the student from having the capacity to give consent).”

The issue here is not and has never been women consenting to sex and then trying to do a take-back because they had a couple. The issue, and is usually explicitly stated as, rapists targeting women who are incapacitated from alcohol or drug use. And even then, it’s less what the woman was capable of and what the rapist actually did, and whether or not he had sex with someone against her wishes, regardless of what strings he pulled or drinks he fed in order to make the task of overcoming her resistance.

This video neatly shows how silly it is to think that anyone is confused about the proper response to someone who is too drunk to give meaningful consent to sex. Decent people, when confronted with somebody who is slurring and incapable of holding it together, put the drunk person to bed and tuck them in. They don’t think, “I bet I can slip it in and she may not even notice.”

While Delgado doesn’t have any examples of “prominent scholars and activists” redefining consensual drunken sex as rape, she does have a “friend” who, in a remarkable stroke of good luck, appears to be a living, breathing misogynist stereotype of a clingy, vindictive bitch. Her friend, “Amy,” carried a torch for a guy named “Steve” for awhile and, after going home with him after a night of drinking, gets all bent out of shape because he blows her off. She then calls Delgado, saying, “I think he raped me.” Delgado talks her out of feeling this way concluding triumphantly that it wasn’t rape, but just “regrettable sex,” and Amy’s motivations were vengeful.

Interestingly, Delgado never explains what exactly made Amy believe it was rape and Delgado to believe it wasn’t. She never mentions, one way or another, whether her friend consented or did not consent during the encounter. Was Delgado convinced it wasn’t rape because Amy told her, “Well, we were drunk, sure, but at the time I couldn’t get his pants off fast enough.” Or did Amy say, “Well, I was drifting in and out of consciousness, so when he started to take my clothes off, I tried to say no, but found that I couldn’t stay awake long enough to do it.” Or was it something in between?

By eliding the issue of consent entirely — and making it all about alcohol, as she accuses feminists of doing — Delgado does not, in fact, resolve any questions here. She may have, as she says, talked a vindictive person out of a revenge accusation (something that is so incredibly rare that Delgado might as well have been struck by lightning). Or she might have talked a rape victim into letting a rapist off the hook so he’s free to rape again.

For the sake of any other women “Steve” may encounter, let’s hope it’s the former.

Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist who writes frequently about liberal politics, the religious right and reproductive health care. She's a prolific Twitter villian who can be followed @amandamarcotte.