Monday, 19 November 2012

Mixed Messages

 Inebriation and Rape

The New Zealand police are saying that far too many young women are being raped whilst so intoxicated that they cannot recall who, what, when, or how.  These cases, whilst on the balance of probabilities  genuine, are very difficult to prosecute successfully.  This, from the NZ Herald:
Police are having to shelve sexual assault complaints because witnesses are too drunk to remember the details.  In Waikato alone, up to five complaints of sexual assaults are recorded each week, usually from women aged between 16 and 30, but many can not be acted on because of the high intoxication of people involved.

The problem also exists at another of the country's busiest police stations, Auckland Central.
Police cannot take a case to court without clear evidence.  But some complainants were so drunk that officers' investigations - costly in police time and resources - were left in in limbo.  "Sometimes it is so bad that they can't remember anything, nothing at all about the sexual assault," Detective Senior Sergeant Mark Greene of Hamilton told the Weekend Herald.  "But they know they have been assaulted. It's also rare that someone walks in here and it's not genuine."
What are the lessons?  The first is to recognise the limitations of police, state, and judicial powers.
  The brute reality is that there are always crimes which escape detection and conviction.  The state is not god; it is not omniscient.  Human powers are limited, finite, imperfect.   The world and human society, prior to the Final Advent of our Lord, can never be completely, perfectly safe or protected from criminal malediction. 

The second lesson is derived: everyone is responsible to ensure that they do not expose themselves to needless danger.  Every adult person is responsible to those that depend upon them that they take reasonable care of themselves. 

Intoxication is a self-inflicted vulnerability.  We are not talking now about spiked drinks or unknowingly drugged food.  We are addressing the situation where people make themselves grossly intoxicated.  For that they are ultimately responsible.  No-one else.  Sure, no doubt there may be social conditioning (everyone else was getting slammed; my friends kept buying me drinks, etc.) but if one is an adult, the final responsibility rests with one's own self-governance, not with inebriated, irresponsible friends. 

Our culture is riddled with blame shifting.  If bad things happen it is always someone else's fault to some degree.  Society is always seen as complicit if something bad happens. So, a badly intoxicated young woman leaves a bar, trips over the kerb and breaks bones.  Who is responsible?  Part of the blame will be sheeted home to the bar which served her the drink.  The lack of warning road signs or the designers of the kerb or the local roading authority might also come in for a share of blame.  Maybe there is some merit in the blame-shifting.  Maybe there is some due complicity that needs addressing.  Society in general will certainly be held accountable insofar as it will pay for the medical treatment and physical rehabilitation of the "victim" without qualification.  But all too often the last person to be blamed or held responsible was the inebriate herself.  We have lost the moral and ethical clarity to say to the "victim" that she has been stupid, foolish and irresponsible. 

Ironically, most people instinctively know that this is the case, but it is impolite, politically incorrect to say so.  The games we play! 

In the case of the rape of an inebriate there can be no exculpation for the perpetrator.  None whatsoever.  The parallel situation in the example of the inebriate who tripped would be a situation where the kerb was manifestly and clearly unsafe.  The kerb constructor, the road administration, the civil authorities would all potentially be held accountable.  But it also remains true that it would likely never have happened if the woman in question had been sober.  Thousands would have stepped down from that particular kerb without breaking bones.  And for that the inebriate must bear responsibility. 

Until inebriates face up and hold themselves accountable for their actions and the consequences that may well result, we fear that little progress can be made.  This happens in some areas.  If a drunken person gets into a car and drives and kills someone, the inebriate is held responsible.  The driver never intended it to happen, but it did.  Accountability is sheeted home.  And if you were driving under the influence and another drunk driver hits your car, you will both be charged.  That is as it should be.  Driving under the influence in any circumstances is a breach of the law.

But society fails to apply the same principle when it comes to the rape of an inebriate.  Granted intoxication by itself is not a crime.  But, the concept of reckless endangerment is well established in Western legal traditions.  There are times when people, particularly intoxicated people, recklessly endanger themselves.  Any education programme to attempt to reduce the binge drinking culture that is now emerging amongst young women must focus upon the responsibility of the women in question to self-accountability.  Don't get drunk! must be the blunt message.
A Massey University survey released this week showed 28 per cent of 16 and 17 year old girls were binge-drinking, downing at least eight standard drinks in a typical drinking session.  The proportion of binge-drinking young women had doubled in less than a decade.  And emergency departments throughout the country were treating more women for intoxication than ever before.

Mr Greene (Detective Senior Sergeant, Hamilton) said binge-drinking played a big part in the problems police faced with sexual assault complaints.  "It's definitely part of the fabric of it."  In Auckland, Hamilton and other centres, police and other agencies are out in the streets at night, pushing campaigns designed to prevent sexual assault.
We have organizations devoted to educating people about what constitutes rape and ways of prevention.  Unfortunately, it would appear that the education leaves out one of the fundamentals.  It focuses upon educating the predator, not the inebriation of women.
Rape Prevention Education director Dr Kim McGregor believed much of the solution lay in prevention.  She said victims were too often blamed because they had been drinking or wearing revealing clothing.  "Nobody goes out thinking they better not wear a short skirt because they might be raped - so let's start focussing on the offender and how we can intervene in their behaviour, rather than blaming victims."
No.  Dr McGregor is operating within a false dichotomy driven by political correctness.  There is clearly a message to be given to potential perpetrators.  There is another message to be given to the potential victims.  It is the same kind of message that is being conveyed to people who are irresponsible enough to drink and drive. 

1 comment:

Blair D said...

While I agree entirely with your post, I can hear your opponents already! "The drunk driver killed or hurt someone else." It is likely that your opponents will acknowledge that drunk drivers also hurt and kill themselves. But, cry your opponents, "drunk young women don't hurt anyone, they are hurt by the actions of others (who also may be drunk), when vulnerable." They forget the actions that led this state. What they fail to acknowledge is that to get so intoxicated is the first harm. The second harm, is that it predisposes, as you say, the young drunk to the potential for greater harm from (? drunk) predators who recognise the vulnerability of the young inebriate and the opportunity this presents to them.

While the predator is always a predator, why increase the probability of placing one's self in harms way? Your opponents are blind to this. It's as if they are arguing for the right to get completely smashed and the protection of those who are out of their senses become everyone else's responsibility and bu that of the inebriate.

If this was applied to the drunk driving debate there would be outrage.