WSJ columnist compares campus sexual assault to drunk driving

Dylan Stableford, Yahoo News
Yahoo News

Wall Street Journal columnist James Taranto has come under fire for a column he wrote in which he argues there's a double standard when it comes to sexual assault on college campuses.

In the column, published on Monday, Taranto comes to the defense of men accused of sexual assault in cases involving alcohol, asserting drunk female victims deserve as much of the blame as their inebriated assailants.

"If two drunk drivers are in a collision, one doesn't determine fault on the basis of demographic details such as each driver's sex," Taranto writes. "But when two drunken college students 'collide,' the male one is almost always presumed to be at fault."

He also points to a quote from a recent New York Times article from Sgt. Richard Cournoyer, a Connecticut state trooper in charge of investigating recent assault allegations at the University of Connecticut.

"These aren't people jumping out of the bushes," Cournoyer told the Times. "For the most part, they're boys who had too much to drink and have done something stupid. When we show up to question them, you can see the terror in their eyes."

In Taranto's eyes, the victims are often just as stupid. "Both of them were taking foolish risks," he writes, "and it seems likely that he as well as she had impaired judgment owing to excessive drinking."

Not surprisingly, Taranto's column has sparked considerable outrage.

"This is textbook victim-blaming," Jessica Wakeman writes on TheFrisky.com:

"Sexual assault doesn’t only happen because victims are drunk. Sexual assault happens because rapists exploit their victim’s diminished faculties. Sexual assault happens because it’s easier to physically overpower someone who is very drunk; sexual assault happens because when someone is passed out, they can’t say 'no.'"


"Taranto lives in a world in which women who are drunk to the point of near-unconsciousness should be presumed to be granting willing consent to whatever behaviors men engage in," Phillip Bump writes on The Atlantic Wire.

"Rape isn’t a mistake that college students accidentally make because they’re too drunk," Tara Culp-Ressler writes on ThinkProgress.com. "In fact, research into college rapists reveals that sexual assault is premeditated and victims are carefully chosen. Alcohol is a tool that rapists often use, but it’s simply one tool among many."


A Change.org petition calling for the newspaper to fire Taranto — launched on Monday by the nonprofit rape survivor group SurvJustice — has already gathered more than 1,400 signatures.

"Supporting rape and rapists is not journalism!" the petition reads. "The Wall Street Journal is giving a platform to a rape apologist. James Taranto is supporting men who are perpetrating sexual violence against intimate partners and intoxicated individuals."

According to a report by the White House Council on Women and Girls released on Jan. 21, one in five U.S. women were victims of sexual assault in college. And according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, one out of every six women will have been a victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime.

Taranto has something of a history of controversial columns. His latest comes less than a month after President Barack Obama announced the formation of a task force to combat sexual assault on college campuses following the administration's successful crackdown on the rapes that occur in the military — something that Taranto previously argued was “an effort to criminalize male sexuality” and a “war on men.”

That column, published in June 2013, was greeted with a similar backlash.

The Wall Street Journal did not return a request for comment. Taranto did not return an email or Twitter message seeking comment.

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