Condemnations of “victim blaming” seem to be motivated more by a need to seize the moral high-ground than by any desire to keep people safe.

If I suggested that you put a lock on your bike so that it doesn’t get stolen, is that victim blaming? That question might seem silly (and it is) but given we live in a world where a cycling-safety campaign can be condemned for victim blaming[1] I thought I should ask.

What is certain, however, is that if I were to ever offer a woman advice about reducing the risk that she would be raped or sexually assaulted, many people would be quite prepared to denounce me as a victim blamer.

Niamh Horan experienced something like this on “The Cutting Edge” when she was part of a panel discussing the case of Brock Turner – a man who sexually assaulted a young woman who was passed out drunk. Ms Horan suggested that alcohol consumption should be discussed as a factor in sexual assault cases.

“You’re putting yourself at risk if you don’t have your wits about you and if you have taken a certain amount of drink and put yourself in harm’s way. We need to start addressing this issue. I don’t think we should be afraid of it”

For her trouble Ms Horan was rounded upon by her fellow panellist, Dr Ciara Kelly, and much of the Twittersphere[2].

During the subsequent argument, Dr Kelly insisted that any discussion of rape should “focus more on the men who are doing the raping”. Yet the speed and anger with which she attempted to shut Ms Horan down suggests that what she really meant was that any discussion of rape should focus exclusively on rapists. It’s not at all clear why this should be the case.

Is it really all that outrageous to suggest that there might be some benefit to having a frank and honest conversation about the risks of excessive drinking and how that can make women vulnerable to opportunistic rapists? Is it unreasonable to think that by forewarning young women of these risks we can help keep them safe?

Should I not tell my young children to never accept a lift from strangers? Would I then be guilty of victim blaming? I don’t know of anyone seriously suggesting that this would be the case so why is a completely different standard applied to conversations about young women and alcohol?

Much of the sentiment expressed by Dr Kelly seems to be encapsulated by the slogan “Don’t tell me what to wear/drink, tell men not to rape” (google it – it’s everywhere). Certainly a proper conversation about consent would be welcome and worthwhile but it is risible to suggest that telling men “not to rape” would go any way towards sparing young women the fate that befell Brock Turner’s victim. He knew what he was doing. He knew it was wrong. He did it anyway.

And if we are looking for statements which mean to suggest that blame should be shifted away from rapists, then surely we need look no further than the claim that “we should tell men not to rape” with its clear implication that rapists are poor, misguided souls who merely lack proper instruction on how to behave towards women.

The Brock Turner case is just one of many instances of a rape that occurred (or was alleged to have occurred) in circumstances where the woman was too drunk to know what was happening to her. The panel that night could just as easily have been discussing the Ched Evans trial or the rape of Thordis Elva by Tom Stranger, as described in their joint TED talk. These are just the “high profile” cases. We can be certain that there are many more “low-profile” cases just like these that don’t make the papers or that never get reported at all.

When a pattern of such consequence is so clear, it is foolish to ignore it. It is indefensible to shout down those who simply want to talk about it and it idiotic to think that any amount of righteous indignation about victim blaming will ever offer more effective rape-prevention than women taking common-sense precautions with their personal safety.

[1] “Road Safety Campaign Accused of Victim Blaming Cyclists”; Irish independent, Sep 26th, 2016

[2] “Blood Boiling After Watching Cutting Edge”; Irish Independent, Jun 9th, 2016

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