Monday, December 14, 2015

Lowering the drinking age to 18 would help reduce rape

My last post discussed the difference between causality and culpability in the context of the college rape epidemic. This post will present a more specific argument involving that distinction. In a sentence, I believe that while alcohol prohibition is not to blame for rape, lowering the drinking age would have the effect of reducing rape’s prevalence, which makes it a highly worthwhile and overdue reform which feminists should enthusiastically support.

For years, feminists have noted that rape is significantly more prevalent on college campuses, and rightly focused their efforts on making those colleges safer for female students. Feminists rightly blame a “rape culture” for fostering male entitlement to female bodies, but since that culture exists both on and off college campuses, it still doesn’t explain the disparity between rates of rape on college campuses and rates of rape elsewhere.

There are many potential reasons for this disparity, but one plausible distinction is that college campuses have a lot of 18-21 year olds, who are herded into more dangerous settings than they would be otherwise by laws preventing them from enjoying alcohol under safer conditions. Just as drug prohibition requires drug users to acquire their drugs in discreet and violent underground settings, alcohol prohibition funnels naïve college freshmen into crowded fraternity basements to drink jungle juice with older males of suspect intentions.

Drunkenness does not cause rape, but it does decrease potential victims’ awareness of what’s going on around them and their ability to resist or call for help. Drunk targets are easy targets. Rapists know this. Rapists are attracted to venues where alcohol will be served to minors for the precise reasons alcohol is being served to minors at those venues: there will be a lot of tipsy young women, and they will be deliberately hidden from law enforcement supervision. Imagine John is a rapist, and he’s thinking to himself, “Where can I go to maximize the likelihood that I can rape someone and get away with it?” Wouldn’t John much prefer the secluded enclaves of a mostly-male frat party to public places where policemen or bouncers might be patrolling, like a bar or nightclub?

To be clear, I have no problem with the underage consumption of alcohol, and don’t blame it (or the people who engage in it) for our country’s rape problem. No thoughtful person would say that alcohol causes rape. What I am saying is that alcohol prohibition enables rapists, and that it does this by requiring alcohol consumption to take place in under conditions in which rape is easier to commit and get away with.

To be even more clear, I am NOT blaming victims who drank alcohol in any way, shape or form. The onus should not be on them to have to take preventative measures or alter their behavior. All people should be free to drink however much they want, wherever they want, without the fear of being raped, and the fact that many women lack that freedom is a horrendous injustice. When rape happens, only rapists are to blame for it.

But just because alcohol prohibition is not morally culpable for rape doesn't mean it isn't an indirect facilitator. Like rape culture at fraternities, prohibition enables and empowers rapists by creating conditions under which rape is easier to commit and get away with. Were alcohol legal for 18-21 year olds, and accessible at any bar, nightclub or liquor store, far fewer college students could be lured into secluded party spots to drink immeasurable amounts of alcohol with total strangers. Instead, underclassmen could party on their own terms, with their own friends, either in bars with a bouncer nearby or in private dorms and apartments to which strangers do not have access – just as upperclassmen usually prefer to party today.

Again, lowering the drinking age would not solve the rape crisis, and should not be marketed as a comprehensive solution to our campus rape problem. But if it can reduce those rapes by making them practically more difficult to accomplish, isn’t that a worthwhile interim goal?

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