Carlo's Corner: ‘Binge drinking’ no excuse to attack young women

March 2, 2012
A new South Australian government ad targets young women's 'binge drinking'.

The South Australian government has produced an “anti-binge drinking” ad that targets young women. It features a young woman slumped in a dodgy club toilet while someone else points her finger accusingly.

The tagline reads: “Drink too much, you’re asking for trouble.”

Journalist Catherine Deveney described the ad on Twitter as amounting to government-funded “slut-shaming”.

The ad does not mention sex. But in a context of media moralism that combines concerns over “dangerous binge drinking” with casual sex and even sexual assault, it is hard to not read the tagline as implying getting drunk could lead to “embarrassing” or even unwanted sexual encounters.

This is the ugly reality underpinning much of the government and media discussion about binge drinking.

Presented as discussion of a public health issue, the topic is used as an excuse for sensationalist moralising over the lives of young women.

Of course, heavy drinking is unhealthy and unprotected sex is dangerous. But the media combine such concerns with bouts of hysteria over a drunken, sex-crazed generation of young women spiraling out of control.

I keep expecting to read that Robert Menzies is seeking to outlaw the Reds in a referendum to confirm I have slipped into a time warp and it is indeed 1951.

Then I read The Australian’s repeated claims about Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon’s links to KGB spies and I realise it is not me that’s fallen through a rip in the fabric of time and space, it’s them.

For instance, Sydney’s Sunday Telegraph ran a story on January 29 titled “Generation Y-Not” that exposed “a generation of young women who blithely out-drink and out-smoke men”.

I was expecting an editorial advocating a stimulus package to rush booze and cigarettes to Australia's young men so nature's proper balance could be restored.

The article said: “Adding to the concern is that some girls are having sex younger than ever” — at an average age of 16, the legal age of consent. The cause for concern is left to the reader's imagination.

The Sydney Morning Herald joined in last June with an article titled “Do you know what your daughter’s doing tonight?”, in which Rachel Olding wrote that “today’s teenage girls” are “sexually promiscuous and binge drinking like never before”.

Olding's story featured two 18-year-old women and one 17-year-old who she watched get blind drunk on a night out. Olding filled her report with salacious details such as: "Theirs is a world in which giving a boy a blow job in the toilets is 'pretty slutty' but you’ll shrug it off the next day."

One of them told Olding: "It's just sex, to us it doesn't mean anything."

Young women enjoying sex for its own sake. The horror.

From this, Olding concluded the nation was facing a lost generation of young women and asked dramatically: "Where are the parents in all this craziness?"

Obviously, this generation of young women is the first to behave in such a shocking fashion.

Back in the '40s, when Yankee soldiers in Australia were described as "overpaid, oversexed and over here", that referred to the habit of the GIs keeping young women up late playing scrabble and discussing the advance of the Red Army on the eastern front.

You certainly never heard any such claims about the '60s, defined as that decade was by the famous slogan: "Saving yourself for marriage, hot cups of milo and rock'n'roll."

But the worst thing by far is that this hysteria ends up as a cover for blaming the victims of rape.

A Sydney Morning Herald article from October last year reported: “Young women planning a night out should tell their friends if they plan to have sex to avoid unwanted and potentially dangerous drunken encounters, the NSW Police Commissioner, Andrew Scipione, has warned.”

Surely a far better plan would be asking young men planning a night out to tell their friends if they plan to rape anyone. That way, their friends can glass them.

Scipione said the “rise in binge drinking among girls and young women is making them vulnerable to sexual assault”.

Right … it is not the existence of rapists that makes young women vulnerable to assault, or a misogynist culture that treats women as objects to be used. It is how much the rape victim has drunk.

These are public comments in 2012 from a leading public official in charge of the force meant to prosecute the criminal.

But it is not just him.

The SMH ran an article in November 2010 about a Flinders University report, funded by DrinkWise and the federal Health Department, that declared: “Heavier drinking is exposing young women to increased risk of sexual assault for which male perpetrators routinely escape blame.”

Sexual assault is the only crime treated this way. No one, hearing of a murder, questions how much the victim had to drink and then suggests: “If only he had a told his mates at the start of the night if he planned on getting stabbed.”

It is not heavy drinking that exposes young women to the risk of assault. Young women face sexual assault whether drunk or sober.

One in four women suffer sexual assault and it can happen in anywhere — very often in the family home.

What exposes young women to assault is the fact that men choose to assault them. And when society lets the perpetrator off the hook by shifting the blame to the victim, it makes sexual assault more likely.

This is where the hysteria about an “out of control” generation of young women ends up.

What is truly out of control is a society so riddled with misogyny that not only is how much young women drink and how many sexual partners they have a topic for public moralising, but the blame for the very real epidemic of sexual assault is shifted to them too.

[Read more Carlo's Corner columns.]


A far more lyrical composition than your last rant, Carlo. I congratulate you on your return to drunken form defending the rights of young people to enjoy their lives. Although I might put to you that pointing out the hypocricy of our government in fear-mongering about youth binge-drinking and drug-taking while saying nothing about the alcoholism of, say, old punters down at the local like yourself would add to the flavour of this piece.
You know, anonymous, I always wait impatiently for your invaluable judgement and criticism. I think, however, reading this, I prefer the criticism to praise. But, whatever you do, don't stop informing me of all the key, essential points you feel I failed to get into these word-restricted rants, no matter how secondary, at best, they are to the point. -- Carlo.
thankyou for writing this. i'm so sick of hearing victim blaming in the media of sexual assault victims. the onus on preventing rape should be on rapists, not potential victims. it doesn't matter what a women wears, how many sexual partners she has had, wether she had a relationship with her attacker, how much she has to drink, or whatever, she is never responsible, only the rapist is. as a woman, it is frightening to me that i don't know many who understand this. the rape prevention tips we receive are not in any way helpful; the vast majority of rapes are committed by someone the victim knows and trusts; a friend, boyfriend, or acquaintance. how do we prevent that? are we meant to be psychic? it seems to me also the constant warnings to young women to behave a certain way i.e. "don't drink too much or you'll get raped" , "don't go home with the wrong guy", is more about controlling and restricting women's behaviour and slut-shaming than any real attempt to reduce the number of sexual assaults. it's a topic for 'public moralising' as you said.
Well argued up to a point - but down the story you introduced the 'women as victims' narrative. Why? It contradicts your core argument, that young women can make choices, have fun and these media stories are a moral panic. Then you end up swallowing the 'killer argument' of the media - that women who party will be raped. Where is the evidence for this? Why are all men suddenly condemned? Please provide one shred of research that shows that empowered young women - who choose to party - are more vulnerable to sexual assault.
I am not sure where it is I made any claim even approaching the "killer argument" of the media, "that women who party will be raped". Or that "empowered young women - who choose to party - are more vulnerable to sexual assault', for which you ask me to provide "one shred of evidence". Well, actually I said the exact opposite to this. I wrote: "It is not heavy drinking that exposes young women to the risk of assault. Young women face sexual assault whether drunk or sober. "One in four women suffer sexual assault and it can happen in anywhere — very often in the family home." I am not sure how you managed to read the argument as suggesting young women who party are more vulnerable to sexual assault. I never said they were and, in fact, said the opposite. What I did do was answer the outrageous implication that if young women party, they bring assault on themselves, or that they are in anyway responsible for assault, or they bear the main responsibility to stop assault. I never said women who party will be raped. I said women face the risk of sexual assault wherever they are and whatever they do, and that actually the family home is the main place. There is plenty of evidence for that and it was my argument. -- Carlo
"Of course, heavy drinking is unhealthy and unprotected sex is dangerous." Probably the only factual statement in this entire article. Drunk people do stupid and dangerous things. A normal person can become a raving lunatic on the sauce and its this inability to control their behaviour that causes all sorts of problems, from drink driving to unplanned sexual encounters. And a drunk person is vulnerable to manipulation by a sober person with bad intent. Simple, factual and whether it fits in your ideological world view or not, something you see every weekend all over Australia.
I am sorry, but the article is not about whether or not someone gets drunk and has an "unplanned" sexual encounter. (It is hardly a carefully guarded secret that getting drunk can lead people to have "unplanned" sexual encounters.) The article is about sexual encounters that are *unwanted* -- in other words rape. This has nothing to do with whether someone is drunk or sober. It is sexual assault. One in four women, over their life, face some form of sexual assault. Some may be drunk at the time, most aren't. You say "a drunken person is vulnerable to manipulation by a sober person with bad intent". This may be true, but rape is not about manipulation, it is about assault. And the blame for the assault is with the assaulter, not the victim, regardless of whether they have been drinking. This really should not be that hard a point to grasp. -- Carlo
Were you on the sauce when you wrote that comment, "Yeah"? Because your inability to control your clueless trolling is evident. While you continue to find excuses to blame women for their sexual assault, you'll just be an apologist for rapists.
Jay_f - What trolling mate? I have had long arguements with individuals about this issue. Just as there are ways to minimise the risk of a car accident, being robbed etc. there are ways to minimise the RISK of rape. Is it the rapists fault? Absolutely. But just as I don't think it is a very good idea to withdraw a large sum of money from an ATM late at night in a poorly lit city laneway, young girls getting plastered, hence losing their ability to recognise a risky situation, is also not a very good idea. What people like you don't get is that the world is not an ideal place nor is it an ideological construct. It is what it is and there will always be individuals who prey on the weak. Best to not make it easy for them by being an easy target.
What sort of backwater hillbilly writes something like this .... "Surely a far better plan would be asking young men planning a night out to tell their friends if they plan to rape anyone. That way, their friends can glass them." Idiotic trash.

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