The Dominion Post dedicated four stories this morning to the interrelated problems of sexual assault, violence and alcohol. Frustratingly, their front page take on the issue was that women were putting themselves in danger:
Police say the number of attacks on drunk young women is growing. “They are binge-drinking, make poor choices and can’t keep themselves safe,” Detective Senior Sergeant Paul Borrell said. “That’s a worry and that’s the preventable part of it.”
Alcohol was involved in 19 sexual assaults on women aged under 21 in Wellington’s CBD this year, while 14 of the victims – including school pupils – were too drunk to remember what happened.
I can understand the horror felt by the police and the Dominion Post, but too often their first instinct is to talk blamingly about the irresponsible women who are victims of assault rather than the vicious men who are the perpetrators. Later in the same story Helen Sullivan, Wellington Sexual Abuse Help Foundation general manager, makes this point too:
“Why should the whole responsibility for a situation be put on women? The bottom line is we should be able to walk down the street or do anything without the threat of sexual violence.”
Stronger messages needed to be sent to men that sexual violence was not acceptable, Ms Sullivan said.
I reckon there are two important solutions. One is a change in culture around alcohol and the other is change in culture around romance.
Starting with alcohol, obviously the point of drinking alcohol, is to get drunk, or at least a little bit drunk… but does that need to be the only point:
Police operations commander Inspector Simon Perry says that, 15 years ago, statistics showed about 70 per cent of people were drinking in bars, with the rest drinking at home.
But with the awareness of drink-driving and availability of alcohol at supermarkets, those figures have changed. Last year’s numbers show 49 per cent of arrested people were drinking at home, with 18 per cent at licensed premises and another 18 per cent in public places.
Alcohol is a factor in about 60 per cent of arrests and Mr Perry says young people buying alcohol from off-licences and drinking in public is a massive concern.
Our cultural approach to alcohol was never that great in the past, and I do think there is a danger of looking at the past through rose-tinted glasses, but I do think there has been a shift in emphasis towards getting drunk quickly, cheaply and away from social situations. Personally I think we need to put much more emphasis onto getting drinkers off the streets, out of cold flats and barns and back into pubs and bars. There their drinking is supervised, not just by the managers of the venues, but by the self-correcting desire not to make a dick of yourself in public.
And romance; well, I hardly ever say this, but I’d really like Aotearoa/NZ to take a lesson from the way the United States does things. Sadly it’s not culturally acceptable for most New Zealanders to be sober and romantic. So to obtain romance you need to get drunk. (Caveat: I’m not in any way comparing romance and sexual assault, which I imagine have different motivations). In the States there appears to be a culture of asking people out on dates. They do it all the time. Stone cold sober. And their egos are big enough to survive being turned down. They then just go out and ask someone else. Wouldn’t it be nice if somebody who fancied you didn’t have to wait for that star-crossed moment when you were both too drunk to let inhibitions (or gravity) get in the way of romance. Instead they could just approach you today and ask you out. That would have saved me a lot of alcohol over the years.