Stop Teaching Students That Sexual Assault Is a Potential Consequence of Drinking

Leah Berkenwald wins the Simon Rockower Award for Excellence in Jewish Journalism for her 2011 Jewesses with Attitude piece relating the egalitarian themes in Harry Potter to Jewish life.

Probably the only thing better than reading a thought provoking piece in a major publication is realizing it was penned by a colleague. Leah Berkenwald, the former editor of our blog, wrote a fantastic article about sexual assault and responsibility. Her message veers away from the traditional, and unfortunate, message of placing blame on women who drink too much and open themselves up for violence, and instead asks the reader to think about the sexual culture of college campuses. Today Leah is the Wellness Education Coordinator at Wentworth Institute of Technology, where she is implementing an original bystander intervention campaign to prevent sexual assault called "Be a WIThero." Check out Leah's piece below!

Stop Teaching Students That Sexual Assault Is a Potential Consequence of Drinking

Approximately one half of sexual assaults involve alcohol consumption by the perpetrator, victim, or both. In higher ed, alcohol educators often assume that students will drink more responsibly if they know alcohol increases their risk of rape. But what if this assumption is wrong? And what if teaching students about sexual assault in the context of alcohol education is doing more harm than good?

The standard alcohol education message is: "Be smart. Be responsible. Don't do something stupid because there are often consequences." Unfortunately, this focus on personal responsibility is completely incompatible with sexual assault prevention. When it comes to sexual assault and alcohol, students interpret the risk reduction message as "don't drink or you'll get raped," or infer that getting raped was your own fault because you were drinking. It's not only college students who think this way. Just recently, tennis pro Serena Williams told Rolling Stone that the 16-year-old rape survivor in the infamous Steubenville case "put herself in that position" because she was drinking.

Blaming the victim is a pervasive problem with sexual assault. For much too long, prevention education focused on individual risk reduction advice like "don't walk alone at night" or consisted of self-defense training workshops. We now understand that stranger rape -- the dark figure lurking in the bushes kind of rape -- is pretty rare. When 85 percent of rapes on college campuses are committed by an acquaintance, teaching women to protect themselves from stranger rape not only misses the point, but implies that rape is the result of a woman's poor decision making or her failure to protect herself. It also provides a false sense of security by suggesting that if a woman follows a set of rules or adheres to a certain dress code, she won't get raped.

Today, college educators still use the risk reduction approach but instead of focusing on stranger danger, they focus on alcohol-related sexual assault. Telling students to watch their drinking so they don't become a target makes sense when the goal is to reduce college drinking; it makes a lot less sense when the goal is to reduce the incidence of sexual assault or improve support services for survivors on campus.

Read more at the Huffington Post >>>

Topics: Education
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How to cite this page

Berkenwald, Leah. "Stop Teaching Students That Sexual Assault Is a Potential Consequence of Drinking ." 17 July 2013. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on June 4, 2023) <>.

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