The Texas Observer
11.5.15 | Amy McCarthy
Is there a crime that inspires more mental gymnastics than sexual assault? TV pundits wonder if a rape victim was dressed inappropriately. Had the victim put herself in a “bad situation”? Did she say yes and then no? Is she lying?
But what we really want to know is: Was she drunk? And if we are not discussing the victim’s drinking habits, or amount they’d consumed when they were assaulted, we are attempting to justify the actions of drunk men who rape — they were also incapacitated, they’re good boys who just got carried away, they were confused by “mixed signals,” and on and on and on.
In Texas Monthly last week, author Sarah Hepola took on the drinking habits of college students in the context of the current fight against sexual assault on campuses. Hepola concerns herself with the subject of blackout drinking, about which she has a great deal of personal experience — you can read her new book about it. But in her Texas Monthly piece, Hepola draws a tenuous line between sexual assault and drinking — any kind of drinking, from casual to binge to blackout, with little nuance paid to how, or whether, different kinds of alcohol use are related to sexual assault. The piece ultimately invites readers to draw very broad, and ambiguous, conclusions about college drinking and sexual assault. And therein lies the problem.