If She Was Drunk, Did She Rape Herself?

It’s almost universal that gang rape victims are intoxicated, and for some reason when alcohol gets involved, a drunk woman did it to herself.

That’s what Mary Koss, a professor specializing in sexual violence at the University of Arizona’s College of Public Health, declared in a May 26, 2007 Mercury News interview.

Koss was explaining why so few women report rape, amidst discussion of the 2007 rape of a teen by members of the De Anza College baseball team.

When this case went to trial last month, the defense implied that the victim had brought the rape on herself, asking, “People told you you were flirtatious when you drink alcohol? People told you that you were touchy-feely when you drink alcohol? You knew the risks of drinking?”

Interestingly, no one asked the accused men why they invited a teen who was known to flirt outrageously when she drank. Perhaps so they could blame her for the rape? It’s jarring to hear innuendo go the other direction.

More typically, alcohol doesn’t bring on flirtatious behavior so much as weaken judgment and ability to respond. And for this, the victim is blamed. “She should have known better than to drink,” it’s so often said.

At the same time, drinking gets men off the hook: “Well he was drunk, so he didn’t know what he was doing. That’s not a crime,” the storyline goes. No one blames men for not realizing that alcohol can lead to a loss in their judgment.

And it’s not uncommon to purposely get women drunk with the intent of facilitating rape. Yet young men can balk at the accusation when they get young women intoxicated to get sex.

A few months ago the Dallas Police Chief was criticized for focusing on what potential victims could do to prevent rape – keep watch on each other when the drinking begins – and not on what potential perpetrators could do to keep from raping.

Why do we so often focus on women’s drinking instead of rapists’ raping? Blaming the victim instead of blaming the perpetrator. And so it goes on…

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on April 29, 2011, in feminism, gender, psychology, rape and sexual assault, sexism, violence against women, women and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 28 Comments.

  1. She did not rape herself. An interesting question that we may not know the answer to at first, but just doing some light thinking can give us a logical answer. First: teens and adults for that matter WILL drink at a party at some point, regardless of legality or previous drinking experiences (knowing their limits) because peer pressure is abundant at such events.

    Second: if someone does decide to drink, they need to know how to be safe doing it. The best thing for parents to do is teach their kids how to drink at home so when they do go out, they can be safe because they’ll know their limits. Peer pressure and not knowing how much alcohol it takes to lower one’s inhibition can be life-threatening, and that is why society should work on teaching safe drinking and of course, safe and consensual sex!

    Third: If someone is not having fun during sex, that means it is going to be less rewarding for both parties so it should end before something happens that will cause regret or more unhappiness.

    Fourth: We should not blame her because her inhibitions were lowered, but we should blame him because even if his were also, he did something that he knew was wrong and could hurt her.

    Fifth: People should be able to go to a party, have fun, and get home safely. That is their right. One should not try to take advantage of another for personal gain. I thought we knew as a society that most of what I said above was common sense, as well as the fact that sex is not consensual when drugs are involved. So why do rape cases keep being ignored or end with victim blaming? Can there really be that many dumb people out there?

  2. People will say “oh well she shouldn’t have drank as much as she did. It’s her fault she got raped. It’s her fault she made herself available enough to get raped in the first place. It’s not his fault. She was egging him on.” The idea of women bringing on rape is repulsive. In our culture, we often blame the victim. Why? Because our society is still based on a patriarchy. Women are constantly being blamed when they are sexually abused. The idea that a woman dressing provocatively brings on sexual assault is ridiculous. Instead of blaming women, when will be start blaming men. Just because men drink, it’s okay for them to rape women? We need to do a better job. Even though a large number of universities are taking more steps to try to educate the younger generation on rape and sexual response, we still have a long way to go as a society as a whole. When did drinking culture begin to aid in sexual assault. When did it become a tool for men to prey on women. I don’t think drinking alcohol is bad. Forcing oneself on another person is vulgar. In order to do so, I would believe one would have some sort of realization of what they are doing.
    Women have to already worry about so much in this world. Rape shouldn’t be one of those issues. Rape isn’t just a physical abuse, it’s mental as well. I would imagine the mental abuse being worse than the physical abuse in most cases. Someone has been inside of you without you saying yes. Just because a woman flirts doesn’t mean she’s asking to be raped. She most probably is being nice. Flirtation doesn’t mean a woman “wants” sex. Flirtation doesn’t mean a woman “wants it” either.
    We need to be better. We need to hold the rapists accountable, not make up excuses for them.

  3. Diane Perez Areedondo

    This post really caught my attention because I’ve always heard about this in the news. We always see stories about men rap\ping or sexually assaulting a women and getting of the hook because they were intoxicated and I totally disagree with this. I feel like every time a women gets raped and she was intoxicated they shouldn’t be blaming it on her. Instead they should be blaming it on the man that raped her and stop blaming her for it. Other stories that I think are crazy are when women get raped and they say it was their fault because of the way they were dressed or the way they flirted with the man. A women is allowed to wear what she wants wether that’s showing a little or showing to much skin. Just because I women shows to much doesn’t not give the right for a man to come and rap her and somehow get away with it because she was intoxicated or dressed inappropriate. It just shows how our society makes women and men look so different and how it’s ok for men to do certain things but not ok for women to do them.

  4. I cannot believe this is still happening. This is like the 1960s.

    And of course it is generally better to stay sober, helps you avoid all sorts of harm. But even being dead-drunk does not make you responsible for what someone else does to you. Good god!

  5. Allyson Velasquez

    There are so many flaws with the argument that “she did it to herself.” If a girl goes to a party and drinks how can she be blamed for doing so? Most people drink when they go to parties, but that does not mean that they want to be taken advantage of. Its no ticket for others to be raped. In the De Anza rape case it makes absolutely no sense that the boys involved in the incident said that the girl was known for being flirty when drunk. It is an across the board fact that people under the influence of alcohol have impaired judgments. If the boys of the team new how this girl was when she got drunk, then why would they proceed to do what ever it was that they did. In my opinion, knowing that she acted flirty when she was drunk argues in favor of the girl because the boys knew how she was and continued to act the way they did anyways. As for the excuse for the boys, “Well he was drunk, so he didn’t know what he was doing. That’s not a crime,” is simply a contradiction of what they blame the girl for. It is so frustrating that being drunk is such an excuse for people’s wrong doings. Especially knowing how people act and how a person knows their limits themselves prior to being drunk. If a crime was committed then the person involved needs to accept the consequences, and not think of such ridiculous excuses.

  6. Demi Battaglia

    No matter how drunk a person is no means no, and if their not aware of the sexual act even going on then thats rape as well. Sex should be agreed upon by both parties. I know alcohol sometimes makes it easier to do things that you wouldn’t normally do but its never okay to force someone to have sex with you.

  7. I feel that drinking brings out the real you. If your a slut when you drink then your a slut while your drunk. If a girl is going to get drunk and act like a fool and let guys get in her pants, and the next day blame it on the guy saying that he raped her BULLSHIT!!!!!! Now on the other hand if she was passed out drunk, then that’s rape, even then i still thinks she’s a dumb ass for drinking to the point where she passes out at a place where she cant trust anyone.

  8. Vince Simpson

    Well the argument can go both ways. On one side the women/girl can be blamed for placing herself in a position where she can be raped, by drinking to the point where she is unable to make reasonable choices can give confusing messages or display questionable behaviors that can be misinterperted by other resulting in undesired outcomes. Yet on the other side, men should understand whether under the influence of alcohol or not that when a women says “no” that means no, however, sometimes that is not enough to deter him. Personally I believe that each gender is somewhat equally at fault when alcohol in present, in part of impaired judgement and neglect of the others feelings or wants. But by no means does this make rape okay, neither can men be solely blamed when they are invited one minute than in the middle of the deed denied.
    Drinking in moderation can be a possible solution, doing this can keep a person within reason thus saving them from make hasty decisions that can have a dark outcome.

  9. Timothy Lepisi

    It is horrible that because society thinks that drunken hook ups that men start are harmless, however when a women is raped because she is under the influence she is responsible for it. Society is responsible for this for multiple reasons. To begin with, society has basically told men and women that drunken hookups that are initiated by men are acceptable. However, when women are drinking and can be perceived as flirtatious, they are responsible for what happens to them. Men are let off the hook when they drink, but women are seen as “asking for it” when they drink.

    I guess I am a little confused as to how men are let off the hook with their behavior, yet women are expected to do the opposite. They are expected to recognize the fact that they are more flirtatious and not act on it. Both men and women act exactly the same when they drink because they don’t have as many inhibitions, but why is it that only women are held responsible? I think that if they are to hold people responsible for their actions, it should apply to both men and women. However, rape should never be anyone’s fault but the perpetrator.

  10. Where this issue is certainly a touchy subject, I still believe that rape is rape, to any extent. Alcohol does indeed have the potential to completely alter your judgment, and you could inadvertently do things that you would soberly never do. However, even with that said, it is NOT an excuse; as we are reminded from time to time, ignorance of the law is no defense. Where I do believe that women can put themselves into incredibly vulnerable situations when they drink, seemingly by choice, it goes both ways. I don’t believe that men get drunk solely for the purpose of luring a woman into their bed, but there that motivation. I can’t remember the last party I went to that a guy didn’t say, “where the bitches at!?” or where girls weren’t incredibly flirtatious, however, that doesn’t justify rape on either side. Perhaps there are situations where both parties are looking to take advantage of the other, but the fact of the matter is that if a woman is raped, she is being forced to have sex without sober minded consent. Under no circumstance is that acceptable.

  11. If that’s true, let’s see some quantitative data that proves it. What countries? What are their brothel prices? What are the rape stats and the ages those stats based on? Are there other factors involved than availability of affordable brothels? You can’t expect me to take your word on sweeping generalizations when you provide no source/numbers. . .

  12. Obviously legalizing prostitution isn’t a rape deterrant, as the stats here show. The brothels provide menus listing sex acts–each girl sets her own prices for various sex acts and those are negotiable. They also allow some leniency for bartering. It is not all just wealthy client-el who utilize the services. Check out some Yelp reviews that mention pricing:


    As a side-note: To provide a logical counter-argument you might try presenting actual facts and figures from valid sources, rather than reiterating your unsubstantiated personal opinions and personal experiences over and over. . .

  13. I agree that in most rape situations where alcohol is involved the rape is also the victims fault. Unless they were drugged, they knew what they were getting into by drinking so much. They know what could potentially happen even though they don’t think it would ever happen to them. For putting themselves in that position, they are definitely at fault. I also agree with the dallas police chief that wanted to focus on what potential victims should do to prevent rape. It is impossible to stop the rapists from raping but if you can educate people on how to avoid the situation, it would greatly help reduce rape. You should always have a friend with you that is not drinking to watch over you and make sure you are not taken advantage of.

  14. Simply after reading the title, “If she was drunk, did she rape herself?” I needed a second to think about the question at hand. Drinking alcohol can produce different emotions and reactions depending on the person. Some people become more flirtatious, emotional, angry, etc. I do believe that a lot of girls do put themselves in a very easy position to get taken advantage of when they are intoxicated, but at the same time that doesn’t make it okay or ethical for another person to rape them just because they are drunk. In order for the number of rapes to be reduced I do think that girls in general need to be more careful and aware of their surroundings when around at parties and keep a buddy system to stay in check with each other. At the same time others my say that the simple answer to ending rape is to just not drink. That may be true, but people drink for different reasons and one of them is not to get taken advantage of sexually. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it is the girl’s complete fault for being rape and say she “raped herself.” I would say that girls do need to be more responsible when drinking and be smart and not thinking that leaving to go to a room alone with a stranger is okay just because you are drunk.

  15. Being a victim of two rapes- one being completely sober and the second being slightly buzzed (2 drinks)- I personally feel that rape victims are often faced with the difficulty of having to “prove” that these tragedies actually did happen, often resulting in what can be referred to as a second rape. When any person says no or does not give their consent or is not even able to consciously give their consent or not, I personally feel that it is then a situation of rape. It is already traumatic to have your body, your emotions, your safety violated by the actual incident of rape in itself, but to have to defend an experience that has literally turned your world upside down and torn you into smithereens is almost just as traumatic, if not even more dangerous, for the victim. This is a controversial subject as it is, but I think the question should not be about whether or not the victim asked for it; rather, I believe that the question should be what kind of person feels the need to have sex with another person who is not coherent and will not remember the incident the next day at all. For myself, sex is a special experience shared between two consenting adults who love and respect each other. That being said, I honestly could not even bring myself to even try to touch someone who was intoxicated. Maybe, just maybe, we are asking the wrong questions of the wrong people.

  16. I have posted this link before, but it’s relevant to this article and discussion too. What if the shoe were on the other foot:


  17. What shocks me the most is the fact that a majority of the time we blame women for getting themselves into these situations. Saying that, they went to the party, dressed in such provocative cloths, and decided to drink. However all these may be true, she did not go to the party asking to be raped. Its the men that planned the party, invited the girls, planned on having sex, and drank. While drinking weakens a person judgments and enables them to function in a legitimate cognitive way it can effect both men and women equally, except looking at rape situations we don’t look at both sides equally. “No one blames men for not realizing that alcohol can lead to a loss in their judgment.” We always look at women and their faults, and not men and the fact that he violated a women without her consent.
    The question that if she was drunk, did she bring the rape onto herself/did she rape herself is outrageous and i feel strongly against that accusation. The fact that in most situations, men systematically plan parties and events around sex and girls. This is relevant in both gang and college settings. In the college settings most parties are located at the frats where men have all control and create situations where it can be easier to have sex. Controlling themes, such as playboy, lansere, etc, where girls can only come in with skanky cloths, control amount of alcohol, and rides back. Nobody is targeting their actions, and how skewed they are, but they are targeting women and the fact that they dress and drink causing them to be the victims. Its the men that are luring them in. We cant say that its the mouses fault for being caught in the trap, but its the person that put it there.

  18. I believe the definition and different conotations of rape is cirumstantial. When we look at rapist’s motives who seek to rape, some do it because it stems from psychological or traumatizing events that have occured in their childhood. When alcohol is involved, certain situations arise from the poor decisions when people are intoxicated. Some men seek to voluntarily intoxicate women severely to get the opporunity to sexually rape them. As a result, the whole notion of consensuality is stripped away from the women’s rights. Then we have situations where both parties engage in intercourse while being intoxicated and they don’t fully realize their actions because their judgment was impaired. The ramifications soon come after. In the blog, it says “More typically, alcohol doesn’t bring on flirtatious behavior so much as weaken judgment and ability to respond. And for this, the victim is blamed.” I come to agree with this because it adheres to what alcohol does for impairing judgment but I think flirtacious behaviors can arise from alcohol intake as well.

  19. I find it so disgusting that we as a society can blame rape victims of bringing such a horrifying thing unto themselves just because they were drinking. It is so true though when it’s the other way around and men are caught drinking during a crime that we continue to make the excuse that they were unable to know what they were doing at the time of the crime, if this is so then we should be able to say that when a women drinks they are being taken advantage of they do not know what is going on. So many stories when we have men putting drugs into womens drinks at bars and then they black out and raped and are unable to defend themselves.

  20. Due to alcohol being involved I understand that the young woman put herself in a position where something could go wrong. This does not make it her fault for being raped I think that the men involved were sick enough to gang rape her that they could be capable for doing the same thing if she was sober. I think because of the state she was in where she was vomiting, crying and her genitals were bleeding that there must have been some type of struggle and if the men involved couldn’t see that their actions were wrong then they obviously accepted them. I feel like this means that at the moment when they accepted their actions they needed to accept the consequences of being rapists as well. I think that people need to be careful about how much alcohol they consume (me included) because people are capable of doing terrible things and you just never know when something could go wrong.

  21. I think that there is a fine line between flirtation and actual sexual activity. Just because a woman is flirtatious it does not mean that she wants to engage in unwanted sexual activity, particularly with eight men from the baseball team! Again this is another example of the double standards women normally have to deal with, like what Katherine commented above. A guy can be flirtatious and no one will judge him. “He’s just being a guy,” the average person would say. Yet, when a woman is openly flirtatious, people automatically assume that she is a slut.

    Being sexually assaulted by one man when you had been flirting heavily with him beforehand is one thing, but to be assaulted by a whole group of men is another. I mean, didn’t it ever occur to anyone in that party that what they were doing to the poor girl was wrong? Why didn’t anyone try and stop it from happening in the first place? It should be no question that this woman was a victim and did not deserve what happened to her. People question her behavior that allegedly brought on the assault. But why aren’t people questioning the judgment of the men involved in the rape?

  22. Katherine Alvarez

    I could not agree more! It is ridiculous that anyone would even imply that because a woman is drunk that she should be held accountable for the actions of others. It just goes to show how different the expectations are between men and women. Both men and women are known to be flirtatious when they’re drunk, however it is acceptable for men but not for women. Why does it have to be that way? Why is it that women basically need to have enough self control to not put themselves in that position instead of men not committing horrendous crimes like this? It is sad that women are looked at as “sluty” when they drink to much and have no inhibitions but men are praised for it. At some point someone needs to draw the line and either imply it to all or no one.

  23. My source “Our Sexuality 8th Ed.” by Crooks & Baur, says all of you are right about the motivations of rape (though some of you debate their points more eloquently, for sure). Anger and power play a large role in stranger rape, but sexual gratification is the predominant force driving acquaintance rape.

    That said, most of the information regarding rapists comes from imprisoned offenders–which comprise less than 1% of the estimated total rapists. AND According to Thornhill and Palmer, rape impregnates only 2% of victims–and only 38% of those resulted in birth. The odds of a child born of rape are less than 1 in 100, which renders the ‘male spreading his seed’ argument irrelevant.

    What is perhaps the most pertinent fact in my book is in a study of 95 societies the most rape-prone (America if you are interested) emphasized competition among boys, glorified aggression and violence as the “natural” behavior, and encouraged gender roles. It was the opposite in rape-free societies.

    So I think the motivation of these (flawed) men is a moot point–the fact is they rape more frequently in our country, and as a people we not only allow it, but justify their bad behavior is critical.

  24. Jennifer Barry

    I said- sex has very little to do with the act of rape, not that it has absolutely nothing to do with it.
    I said I disagreed with your statment, not that you were a liar, had ADD, or were full of rubbish.
    It’s my understanding that the purpose of the blogs is for women to share their experiences and opinions RESPECTFULLY in regards to the subject.
    Snowisfun, I can tell that this subject has strong meaning to you and you feel passionate about your opinion, I respect that. I ask that in return you respect my opinions and experiences and not resort to name calling or stereotyping me into some “cop who has already made up her mind regardless”. Let’s not engage in inappropriate back and forth.

  25. Kristina Mardinian

    When I think of rape, I think of the consequences a woman has to face afterwards. The risk of pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and mental welfare are only a tiny portion of the consequences involved with rape. No individual should be placed in a situation where they can be physically and mentally harmed without their own consent. The power of alcohol removes that consent away from that person, as they are not in their right state of mind. No one should ever take advantage of a person under the influence of alcohol for any reason, as they do not have that ability to understand the situation and say no.

  26. Jennifer Barry

    Although I am completely unfamiliar with the book by Thornhill & Palmer (above reply states: “Also as written before, rapists are motivated by sex. Thornhill & Palmer in their book mention that 84% of rapists say that they do it for sexual motives”). I completely disagree with that statement based on my years of experience in law enforcement interviewing sexual assualt suspects. Sex has very little to do with the act of rape. As a matter of fact, and I cannot give you actual percentages, a large percentage of rapist’s don’t even ejaculate. Rape is about anger, control, dominating, and “taking” by force. However, there are several different ways of going about rape. Some rapist prey on strangers and brutally force themselves on them, some rapists prey on victims who are not mentally capable of making sound decisions because of their age, or thier physical disabilities, and other rapists prey on victims who temporarily incapacitate themselves with either alcohol or drugs. These circumstances are all elements in the California Penal Code for the definition of rape.

    So I guess what it really boils down to is: what level of rape do you find offensive enough to send someone away to prison for committing. How is it that one rape is worse than the other? I can understand making a brutal rape (leaving visible injury upon the victim) a longer sentence, but a rape without visible injury should still be prosecuted. What people need to understand is that the definition of rape is not necessarily a hooded man sneaking into houses at night and beating up innocent women while forcing intercourse upon them. The definition is, in a nutshell, the act of intercourse (penis enters vagina, however slight) without the consent of the female. The law does not require written consent. In my opinion, people get confused when “Johney-Allstar-Football-Player” gets arrested for rape. They cannot comprehend that Johney, with his high academics, his popularity amongst his peers, and wonderful smile, could possibly be a rapist. Johney would never wear a mask, enter a house through a window, and then beat a woman up while raping her! And they are correct in that Johney would never do that. That’s not his style. What they don’t understand is that Johney has a different style of raping. He likes to flirt with his victims, push or encourage alcohol, and then wait until they can’t function well enough to make sound decisions. Then he moves in and takes what he wants, and invites his friends to join.

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