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Mia Freedman responds to the outrage over her rape column.

WARNING: This article deals with themes of rape/sexual assault and may be triggering for survivors of abuse.

I’ve thought all week about whether or not to write a follow-up to my column on Sunday night about the link between alcohol and sexual assault.

The response, almost as soon as it was published was – from some on Twitter – absolutely vicious. It was personal, it was furious, it was often defamatory, it willfully misrepresented what I had said and it was in many cases totally inaccurate.

It served to turn what could and should have been a civilised discussion into an incredibly heated and personally abusive shitfight. One that continues almost a week later, having made its way into the mainstream media and beyond.

Not all of the debate was like that, of course. Some people who disagreed with what I’d said or who had different perspectives shared them on Facebook, in the comments on Mamamia and occasionally on Twitter and remained civil.

But many didn’t. Many people didn’t even read what I’d written, preferring to be swept into the Twitter frenzy. And a handful of the most vocal Tweeters are well known to be people who simply love to jump on board any opportunity to have a go at me personally, no matter what the subject.

I don’t want to make this about me. I’m not asking for your sympathy or your flowers.

I’m just explaining why I’ve decided to write this follow-up and answer some of the outrageous accusations and slanderous statements that have been made about my views on the subject of sexual assault this week.

While I can’t prevent people from disagreeing with me or even abusing me, I don’t have to passively accept it.

Because you know why? I believe in what I’m saying and I’m damned if I’m going to let this very important message be hijacked by those who are deliberately misrepresenting it – and me.

I have chosen not to get involved on Twitter because there have literally been thousands and thousands of tweets and retweets (I’ve noticed that while many people have become involved in the discussion, Twitter has been all about a few individuals doing something we call power-posting; repeating themselves again and again, very loudly and RT’ing every single tweet that agrees with them).

So instead, I thought I’d answer the most common criticisms here instead. To set the record straight.

“Mia Freedman is pro-rape.” This is repugnant. Not even the most twisted mind could rationally take that sentiment away from what I wrote. It’s here. Please read it if you want to have an informed conversation about it.

“Mia Freedman is blaming rape victims for causing their own sexual assault.” Again, please. I explicitly and repeatedly stated in my original column that a victim of sexual assault is never, ever, ever at fault.  I cannot emphasise that enough. The idea of a rape victim doing something to ‘cause’ a crime is one that has been comprehensively rejected for decades now. As it should be. I simply pointed out the connection between alcohol and sexual assault as a RISK factor – not a causal one. If you don’t understand the difference, you need to, before you start making outrageous and patently false statements about what I believe.

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“Mia Freedman thinks getting raped is the same as being hit by a car.” For those making this accusation, it might be worth explaining what an analogy is. It’s a way people try to explain things using comparisons. Those comparisons are not meant to be literal. They’re figurative. It’s not saying a woman IS a car. Or that rape is the same as a car accident. There are some analogies I have used to try and underline the fact that drawing a link between two things and highlighting a risk factor is not the same as victim blaming. Not at all. We wear our seatbelts in the car to REDUCE our risk of injury if we are hit by a drunk driver. If that does happen, it’s obviously not the fault of the passenger, seatbelt or not. But we still teach our kids to wear seatbelts to reduce our risk if the worst happens. That’s not victim blaming. It’s common sense.

We wear sunscreen to reduce our risk of skin cancer. If you get skin cancer, it’s not your fault. But teaching our kids to use sunscreen to reduce their risk is not victim blaming. It’s common sense.

There are statistical links between those things. Just like there are statistical links between excess consumption of alcohol and sexual assault. One doesn’t CAUSE the other. It simply increases your risk.

“Mia Freedman says women shouldn’t drink or they’ll get raped.” Bollocks. Do what you like. But it’s a proven fact that getting wasted is the enemy of good judgement. For women and men. When you’re wasted, your inhibitions are lowered. Your ability to asses and manage risk – all kinds of risks – is dramatically reduced. Bad shit can happen when people are wasted. By trying to shut down any discussion of that or wishing or pretending that isn’t the case, who actually are we helping?

“Mia Freedman is a disgrace to her gender and a disgrace to feminism.”  This is about as sophisticated and valid an argument as to call someone unAustralian. I reject both accusations categorically. Feminism is not an elite club to whom admission is granted by a select group of women on Twitter.

“Linking alcohol and rape is like saying a woman asked for it because she’s wearing a short skirt.” No it’s not. It’s absolutely not. There is no statistical link between what a woman is wearing or how many sexual partners she has had and whether or not she is raped. Those arguments are out-dated, misogynistic relics of a time when there was ‘no such thing’ as rape within marriage. When “she was asking for it” was a legitimate excuse. All of those arguments are indefensible. The fact they are still held by some fools is a travesty but is not a valid reason for shutting down THIS debate. Because there IS a link between excessive alcohol consumption and sexual assault. It exists. I didn’t make it up. And it’s so gobsmackingly obvious, that the biggest surprise is that it is never discussed.

“Why aren’t you telling boys not to rape?” Well of course we are! We do – and we must continue to do so, but there of course people in the community to whom these messages won’t get through. There are people who don’t care what they’re told. Saying ‘don’t rape’ and expecting that to work is not enough.

Crucially though, why on earth do these two things have to be mutually exclusive? We teach people not to drive drunk AND we teach people to wear their seatbelts. Teaching men about consent is something we must absolutely do. But that doesn’t mean we can’t also teach women about the things that can make them vulnerable to a man who didn’t get that message. Or who ignores it.
Mamamia is a women’s website that talks predominantly to women. So the fact I was writing about women is hardly surprising. We have published many many posts over the years of publishing this website about rape and sexual assault, always from the point of view of the victim. We have given many many women the opportunity to tell their stories and speak their truths. None of them are to blame and to suggest otherwise is repugnant and offensive to me and to them.

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“Mia Freedman is as bad as the Taliban. She says that not getting wasted reduces your risk of being sexually assaulted, So does staying home. So should we all do that and then nobody would get raped! ” Please. Yes, staying home reduces your risk of lots of things including having any kind of social life. But we all manage risk and danger every moment of our day.  Those are personal decisions every person must make for themselves. Information is power. Why are some people so threatened by teaching girls – and boys – that there’s a link between getting wasted and sexual assault?

“Women are more likely to be raped by a relative in your house than a stranger so why aren’t you telling women to be careful of their male relatives instead of alcohol?” Again, one message does not cancel out another message. There are many different types of perpetrators of sexual assault and we need to be having calm, rational discussions with girls and women about all of them.

“You’re wrong, Mia. Alcohol doesn’t cause rape. Rapists cause rape.” Of course they do. And the sun causes skin cancer and drink drivers cause accidents and murderers cause murders. Is anyone disagreeing with that? I never said alcohol caused rape. To suggest otherwise is once again a deliberate misrepresentation of what I wrote and believe. I never said anything about CAUSING rape. I wrote about risk management. DIFFERENT THINGS. One you can control, one you can’t.

“Saying there’s a link between alcohol and rape will make victims feel bad.” This argument is a facile one. Rape victims deserve nothing but support and sympathy.  But since when do women need to be protected from information? Particularly information that may prevent others from being sexually assaulted? That is incredibly insulting. You make your own decisions about what you drink, what you wear, where you go and who you sleep with. This is not an issue of morality. There’s no need to be threatened by information or to loudly, repeatedly and aggressively shut down anyone who tries to share it.

I could go on but you get the drift. And if you don’t, go back and read my article.  Actually read it and don’t just read what others have said about it – or me.

Because ultimately, we are all on the same side – the side of the victims and making sure there are as few of them as possible. Reducing those numbers is not about one single message. It’s about lots of messages. Warning girls about the dangers of getting wasted is as important – and I would suggest logical – as warning them about getting in cars with strangers and looking out for one another.

And to suggest there is somehow something anti-feminist or victim-blaming about that is an accusation I reject wholeheartedly for all the reasons I’ve outlined above.

Please note if this post or any of the comments bring up any issues for you, or if you need to speak to someone please 1800-RESPECT or the NSW Rape Crisis Centre on 1800 424 017.  It does not matter where about you live in Australia, they will take your call and, if need be, refer you to a service closer to home.

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