Does Somebody Actually Believe Booze and Rape Are Unrelated?

Rape: another important topic falls off the map of sanity. Now people are demonizing a North Texas lawmaker because she said rape and booze might have something to do with each other.

So does that mean somebody actually thinks there’s a planet out there somewhere in the rant-o-verse where rape and booze do not have anything to do with each other? What is this, a joke?

Worse, in order to make their point they’re doing a ham-fisted job of word-twisting to make the legislator, Myra Crownover, a Republican from the 64th Texas House district in Denton, sound like she said something stupid that she totally did not say.

In a House Education Committee hearing on sexual assault, Crownover said, “I would be curious to see how many times a pure, sober sexual assault happened. The best chance is being sober.”

Michael Barajas, writing at our sister publication, The Houston Press, linked her words to remarks made by famous ignoramus and former Missouri congressman Todd Akin, who invented the term, “legitimate rape,” and also suggested that women of virtue could snap their vaginas shut if they didn’t want to get laid.

Barajas wrote: “If ‘pure, sober’ rape sounds kinda like that infamous ‘legitimate rape’ comment, it’s because the two aren't all that far removed. While Todd Akin was wrong about basic biology (maybe he’s a victim of abstinence-only sex-ed), Crownover apparently doesn’t understand how and why rape happens.”

Then Barajas went on to say several perfectly accurate and germane things about rape as an act of subjugation and the importance of not blaming the victim. But, wait. Why does Crownover’s remark about “pure sober” rape resemble anything that fool-face Akin said about female virtue and the vagina?

Hey, I know Crownover is a conservative suburban Republican and therefore considered sort of open-shooting for people not of her ilk including myself, but we do have to pay some attention to the language. Her use of the word, pure, was not in any way ambiguous. She meant “completely,” as in completely sober. Not drunk at all. Stone cold sober.

It’s a distortion of what she said to try to suggest she was referring to moral purity. I have read the full quote from several sources. You tell me. Here it is:

“I was listening for mention of drug or alcohol abuse and, you know, I think those two conversations are so intertwined. I would be curious to see how many times a pure, sober sexual assault happened. And I think that’s something we need to talk about. The two are so intertwined, I don’t see talking about one without talking about the other.”

After the first story about her remarks was published by The Dallas Morning News, the whole world went up in a big nuke cloud on anti-social media. Then Crownover called the paper to clarify her remarks. I’m not big on clarifications. My former colleague here, Andrea Grimes, now an editor at The Texas Observer, tweeted to the effect that Crownover should be held to her original words, and I quite agree.

You’ve read her original words. Did you hear Myra Crownover say anything about moral purity being the best defense against rape? No, I didn’t, either. She did say she wanted to talk about booze and rape.
For a really smart, important discussion of booze and rape, please see an essay by another former colleague, Sarah Hepola, in the January Texas Monthly.  Hepola, author of Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget, sets out in her Monthly piece to talk about just that, blacking out, a seldom understood but all too frequent aspect of bad drinking. But that topic draws her ineluctably to questions of sexual consent.

Two parts of her essay struck me. One was about consent itself:

“Consent and alcohol make tricky bedfellows. The reason I liked getting drunk was because it altered my consent: it changed what I would say yes to. Not just in the bedroom but in every room and corridor that led into the squinting light.” 

The second was about consent and moral responsibility:

“I was glad to hear some feminists address alcohol, calling it ‘the number one date-rape drug,’ explaining how predators will get you drunk to take advantage of you, and yet the language made my forehead crinkle. Get you drunk? I’d gotten myself drunk just fine, thank you very much.”

When topics this profoundly personal are on the table, we all bring our own profoundly personal experiences to them. Part of my own is a long history of bad drinking early in life. Hepola’s remark about being able to get drunk on her own pushed a button. Yeah, as I remember, I didn’t require much assistance with that, either.

She explains the phenomenon of the alcoholic blackout artfully and effectively. It’s not about being passed out on a sofa. It’s about being wide awake, out there driving around, meeting people and doing stuff, but with a gone-fishing sign hung on the door of the Morality Department in your brain. And who put the damn sign there?

The other personal experiences I bring to that one come from being a police reporter in Detroit in my 20s, and they have to do with the other person, the attacker, being drunk or stoned.  Look, drunk stoned people are drunk stoned people, in a fraternity house at SMU or on the streets of Detroit. No matter where you put them, they don't get any better. It's why, if you are going to be around drunk stoned people, you have to hope you will be able to defend yourself, although sometimes you just won't be. So you do your best.

On one occasion I remember walking through the blood-drenched home of a retired auto-worker and his wife. The cops had come and gone. A neighbor who saw some of it took me through. We looked at their antique wedding photos from Mississippi, so charming. The neighbor saw the junkie flee, rushed into the house. The old man was dead. She found the old lady standing at the kitchen sink with half a dozen knife holes in her breasts, trying to wash the blood away while she sank slowly into a sticky puddle of crimson. The body was gone but I could see her shoe-prints in the congealed blood.

I made up my own mind in that moment that people who turn off their own moral centers are absolutely responsible for every aggressive act they commit from that moment forward. Their responsibility is born with that first needle stick.

In talking about rape, we all have to negotiate a perilous moral and social maze, the legacy of an age when women were, indeed, blamed for their own rapes. Men were regarded as innocent apes incapable of self-control, beguiled into violent sex by females who had made themselves sluttishly attractive.

Maybe Todd Akin still believes that. Nobody else who is remotely serious, no male who has a daughter, mother or female friend out in the working world of today believes that. Most people believe what Jessica Valenti wrote in her 2009 book, The Purity Myth. 

“Women don’t get raped because they were drinking or took drugs. Women do not get raped because they weren’t careful enough. Women get raped because someone raped them.”

Parents who want to raise sons as decent human beings should teach them that a really drunk girl is off-limits. But the truth is that too many middle and upper class people in this society send their kids off to college woefully ignorant of the dangers of alcohol.

The Gordie Foundation, established in 2004 by Michael and Leslie Lanahan of Dallas, has created a curriculum of alcohol awareness now in use on campuses across the country to teach kids basic facts about booze. The foundation has found that kids showing up for their first year away from home too often know little or nothing about the toxicity of alcohol or about symptoms and signs that a drunk friend may be in danger of dying and what to do about it.

Where in the entire universe of love and care is it somehow wrong or politically incorrect to warn them about the nexus of alcohol and rape? Fine, I’ll go back and read Crownover’s original quote one more time. OK. Did it. She said she didn’t understand why drugs and booze would not enter into a discussion of rape.

My heart still bleeds for that old couple who got murdered in Detroit. Every door in the house was crossed and clutched by multiple locks, all open and hanging down like lifeless fingers on a hot summer day. I remember wishing they had joined the locks in spite of the heat to shut out the junkie. I wasn’t blaming them for getting stabbed to death. I was wishing I could bring them back to life.

That’s what I hear Crownover talking about. If we really want to protect kids on campus, male and female, then why would we not warn them about getting blacked-out or even just very drunk at a fraternity party?

Is the rapist at that party still culpable, if his victim is drunk? Oh, what an idiotic question. Of course he is. But the victim still got raped. Assigning moral blame won’t take that away — that reality, that history, that odious act.

The goal – the ultimate goal in a responsible society – can’t be merely to help victims deal with what happened to them, although that’s a good goal. The ultimate goal must be to try to make sure it doesn’t happen.

Does anybody really think a girl can get blacked out drunk in a house full of also drunk, barely post-adolescent males whom she has just met and somehow, by some law or convention, be rendered safe from rape? I think anybody who thinks that is an idiot.

Women who control themselves about drinking and drugs are not taking responsibility for their own rapes. They are trying like hell not to get raped. What? Does somebody not even want them to try?

Crownover deserves an apology.
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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze